Attending My First TEDx Conference

Two weekends ago, I attended my first TEDx Conference. Hosted by the University of Waterloo, this event was TEDxUW 2014 with the theme: Ideas worth spreading.

Now, before I go further, everyone who reads this must understand the what a TED conference is, and how it is more than just a “TED Talk” and that a TEDx Conference is a locally, and independently hosted conference that embodies the same ideas, but the event is not always hosted to the same quality of standard as the official TED conference. (This year, it is in Vancouver, my home town!)

Now that’s out of the way, let me reflect:

I first have to admit, that I have watched a lot of TED videos over the years, first being inspired by them from an Adora Svitak video about what adults can learn from children. That one gave me a lot to think about, and I took away strong themes from it that I continue to keep with me today.

I arrived at the Tannery District that morning, on a bus full of probably 10 other students all destined for the same location. It was obvious when we got off the bus, all of us, heading in the same direction, at a similar brisk walking gait. We went in, checked in, and settled into a theatre room. Oh, it was a pretty room. I counted, 7 projectors, creating a seamless projected wall. I thought it was brilliant, and one of the later speakers told us, that it was actually one of the first such systems. Nowadays, the technology is used widely.

We first went off to a breakfast area, where all the participants mingled. I went around some tables, said ‘hi’ to people, and that was it. Typical breakfast reception, with pastries and drinks, but I didn’t complain. We went back to the theatre, where there was a short performance by the UW Waterboys A cappella group, and then we began with welcome and introductions.

Starting the conference!

Starting the conference!

Rod Regier was the first to speak.

Rod is the Executive Director, Economic Development for the City of Kitchener. His talk reflected a lot upon the idea of driving development in the Downtown Kitchener area to create a livable and efficient work environment for people. He used the Tannery, where the event was conveniently hosted, as an example of the Region’s long term goals of creating a dense, but collaborative urban office space. Waterloo Region is blessed with a rich environment for start-up’s and tech companies. For the City of Kitchener to understand this, and to encourage the growth of its core, is an important part of city planning.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t see this practice very well in some other cities. I’m sure cities do it, but the thing I find with Waterloo Region is that it acts very preemptively. It shapes it community to develop in the best possible way. In Downtown Kitchener, they redesigned their main street to create a new walkable and open environment, creating a welcoming area for citizens come out. I’ve walked down King Street, and it’s comparable to Granville Street in Vancouver (albeit Kitchener’s is a bit cleaner), or Yonge Street in Downtown Toronto (but Kitchener’s is much more walkable, and not as busy). They even close down that section of the street for festivals. That, I think is powerful — that the city is not afraid to put its citizens first, in front of the needs of vehicles. After all, we should be designing our cities for people, as we’re the ones who live in cities…..not the car.

When I came to Waterloo in 2009, I have to admit, Waterloo Region was just like a small town to me. But over the years, the place has grown on me. The fact that the transit system is constantly evolving to serve the needs of its residents, and the proactive nature of city developments has really solidified my opinion that Waterloo Region has set itself on a very good platform. And within the next decade, I can only see Waterloo Region growing into a wonderful and amazing city centre. And though I’m biased by my hometown, I can’t shake the fact, that I upon my graduation, I am actually proud to have lived in Waterloo Region during this time, and I appreciate the city, a lot, and now, so much more. I will miss Waterloo and Kitchener when I go…. but I will not forget it.


Our second speaker was Mike Kirkup, a Directory at Velocity.

Velocity is the University of Waterloo’s startup incubator, and is mainly a residence for entrepreneurial students. I took from his talk, the emphasize of the business of his life, and how he managed to pull everything together (with 2 jobs, 2 consulting, a family, and still manage time for the other necessities of life). As a University student, I find most of us fail at maintaining our time very well.

He said that, we should wake up early. Wake up early to plan your day, and get everything in check, Track the time that you’re spending on activities, and it allows you to address the inefficiencies, and improve. People’s perception of the time that they spend on things is hardly ever accurate about the actual time that is spent on things. Fortunately, I have found myself doing such things more often than not upon the final term of my undergraduate career. But it was mostly the result of…… wow, I no longer have time….. I need to….. figure this out. At least, I suppose it’s something I’m trying out right now, so we’ll see how it goes. However, I can almost definitely not wake up at 4:00am in the morning that Mike can….

Waking up that early allows one to get their work done before hampered by others. It’s a fresh start to the day. On the other side, staying up late, he says, that you are only fighting with your own tired self. So I see merits in his statements. But whether or not I can actually be able to uptake some of that, is a more interesting challenge.


After a brief conversation break, we resumed with a short acrobatic performance (with a guy who needs to be stronger — I was a bit worried at times with that much unsteadiness)


Dr. Josh Neufeld continued the talks.

I know Dr. Neufeld as a biology professor on our campus who was famous for his teaching and his Halloween costumes. His talk was about inoculation against diseases, and the development of our own ‘microbial garden’.

Now I know if I don’t word this correctly, I’ll be subject to debate, but I’m remembering this based on my memory, so it may not be the most correct representation.

What he talked about was our internal bacterial culture that all humans have with them. It is an integral part of our bodies, and we should be doing more to protect, and nurture it. Overuse of anti-biotics can completely destroy our internal gardens. He also said not to be afraid to let kids go out, instead of protecting them from the world. It is all a process of self-inoculation that is important for overall general health, that people often overlook.

His talk reminds me a bit of other theories such as the hygiene hypothesis, and some other theories (which had come up in discussion after his talk). There is research into this area, so I will try not to make too many judgments, but I do believe there is merit to this statements, and it is in-line with some of my beliefs as well. Society and civilization has changed really quickly in the  past number of years with technology. It is hard to predict some of the effects that are occurring to our bodies. However, I would like to at least spread Dr. Neufeld’s message, and say that, considering microbes in human health is significant, and we should be paying more attention to it.


The next speaker was Ginny Dybenko, the Executive Director at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus.

Her talk, in my opinion was slightly weaker, but dealt with the overabundance of technology. She argued that we, as people, mustn’t forget the human component. We are social animals, and as a part of understanding people, and working with people, we need a human element. It doesn’t work, when all we do is pay attention to our phones, and our devices.

Her stance is similar to mine in the sense that I always advocate taking a step back from this technological whirlpool, although, I always emphasize a friendship perspective, Ginny argued more towards working in the field. I believe it is something that we, as people, need to realize, and understand that technology is supposed to assist the human experience. It’s meant to improve our lives, but don’t believe that it should replace all human emotion and interaction. We owe it to ourselves to see the reality. Otherwise, it will be sad when future generations wake up…… unprepared for the world…… (arguably some already are), and wonder… why society steered them into that reality, and how… things seem to be so bleak.


After that, we had a lunch break, with food provided by UW Catering services. Decent food, (it wasn’t sandwiches), so I was happy. After lunch, we were presented with a TED video which was Matt Ridley’s When ideas have sex. It was a good talk. I had seen it before, so my amazement at the conference was a little low. But, maybe this is what they do at TED conferences, they reiterate some previous talks which reflect the theme of conference.


The next speaker, was my favorite talk of that day. Christina Marchand is a University of Waterloo Co-op student who has done humanitarian work in Uganda.

Her talk, reflected upon her experience there, and ‘minding the gap’ between the benefits of the developed world, and conditions she saw in Uganda. Her talk was moving… powerful. At times, it almost felt like she was going to cry. And I can’t say any more about her story without doing it justice. You will just have to see it yourself (unfortunately it has not been posted yet).

Her experience changed her, and she eventually she found a way to ‘mind the gap’. She is starting a company to sell luxury apparel with the idea of providing medical delivery kits for hospitals in Uganda.

Talk about a Co-op student who is extraordinary. Makes me reflect upon what I’ve done (or rather, not done) as a co-op student. It is humbling, but I am inspired with her story.


Following was Frank Gu, a Canada Research Chair, and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo.

His talk was one that presented some of his research on using nanotechnology to clean water in developing countries. Something that would be so small, and simple that it could purify water for an entire village that could be sent over in something as simple as a mail envelope. The technology, I have doubt is still under development, but it is a promising area of application. In my opinion, sending stop-gap solutions is not the best way forward, but given the current situations and realities, it is one thing that can be done. Ideally, I would like to see such technology for use in disaster relief.


After that, we were shown another TED video: A performance of Mathemagic by Arthur Benjamin.

That one is always a wonderful video to watch. However, I had also seen that one before, but it does never cease to amaze me.

Following that, we had another conversation break with a ‘What if’ Tree, and a performance from a regular magician (not quite as good… arguably), and then we went onto our final set of talks.

'What if' Idea Tree

‘What if’ Idea Tree


Dave Wilkins began the final session.

Dave is a founder of Ten Thousand Coffees.  His story resonates well with our generation. He talked about how university students of our age, we’ve been raised in an environment promised with so much opportunity, but the moment we gradate, and face the real world, we realize it’s not there. What’s the problem? He argues it’s that employers don’t have any good way of finding the people they want. People are fighting over jobs with resumes and profiles, which, in our day and age, don’t properly show a person for what they are. It becomes a competition based on how well one can sell themselves on a piece of paper, and regularly, good candidates have trouble difficulty finding work, because quite simply, their resumes do them no justice.

He talked about his story, how he went through this, and his idea that employers needed to find better ways to connect with prospective employees. It eventually led him to a coffee conversation with a hiring manager who told him, “I can’t hire you — you need to start a company.” And he did. It’s called Ten Thousand Coffees, and it’s a way to connect industry professionals with students.

At my point in development, I have come to realize that this level of interaction is immensely powerful. Getting to know your prospective employers, and having them know you, is powerful. Whether it is applying for a job, or heading into higher education, the same principle applies.

I believe, that in our modern day, that not only are our education systems backward, but so are our hiring practices. There is a lot of competition for school and work nowadays, and it’s difficult to navigate. We need to find better ways of connecting people. In a world where society is constantly glued to their electronics, and have so many (facebook) friends, but don’t actually have (any) friends… it’s something that needs to be addressed. We have the technology now…… let’s find ways of using it to help us, instead of hindering us.


Finally, we had a talk by Dr. Paul Salvini, CTO of Christie Digital (same company that developed the projector system I mentioned earlier).

He talked about creative innovation. How people need to try their ideas, and lead innovation. He talked about his story of digital film projectors. There was no market for it originally. Theatres didn’t want to buy new projectors when their original ones worked well. Consumers never would notice the difference. But it was because marketing was misguided. The money that could be saved was not in the projectors, but in the developing of film rolls for theatres. And so, by addressing the inefficiencies correctly, they became a very profitable venture. Saving the money by digital distribution, paid for the digital projectors, which in turn benefited the theatres, and generated revenue for his company.

So it was a case where it put into mind, that opportunities are not always limited. We just need to be more creative, and broad, in looking for ways to apply it. “Innovation, outside one’s field of expertise” — is worth a lot.

We finished off with concluding remarks, and had an afterparty after that.

I had a great time at TEDxUW, and I wish that I would be able to come back the year after that. It was almost like an information over-stimulation. And even right now, two weeks later, all these ideas are still resonating through me. But that could be because of my personal dispositions to do a lot of thinking. I reflect, and this is what this is what my blog is. It is for the pivotal experiences in my life that I have to share.

Now that that is done….. back to homework…

On a side note: I found myself in the school newspaper.


Edit: Added links to the talks.


Leave your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s