February 23, 2006

TED, Day 1.5... Pop life

Lots of stuff on pop stars today, just to complete a theme. There was actually a ton more science today than anything else, and the science was actually way more interesting, but I like to group my ideas into modes, so I took some stuff from yesterday, too. (Also, some of the science I'm not allowed to talk about yet.)


Daphne Zuniga (of Melrose Place, most recently) is narrating a documentary on TED this year, so she's all mingling with us. It's amazing how good stars look in person. Even if you're not that into how they look on TV, when you see a star in person, there's just something shiny about them.

Last night I walked up to her and said, "Excuse me, but I just wanted to say how much I loved you in Say Anything." She looked completely taken aback and didn't speak for a second.

"I'm kidding, I know you weren't in that."

She said, "I really do get that all the time."

I said, "I know. But, hey, I really did love you in Spaceballs. Enjoy the conference!"

Someone suggested at the party later that I should have just gotten a big boom box and stood ten feet away from her and held it over my head in a trenchcoat. I was all, "Yah, I wouldn't even have to buy a CD, I could just have Peter stand behind me and sing 'In Your Eyes.'"


Peter Gabriel gave his talk today. He's actually a very quiet and distinguished-looking man; you might be forgiven for mistaking him for Sean Connery. He is clearly an introvert and it seemed physically painful for him to be onstage and not be singing to us; he mumbled and spoke so softly that a lot of his funny, natural introductory comments were entirely missed by the audience. He started off by saying, "Hi there!" into the microphone in his signature way, which I appreciated at least.

He gave a very moving talk about Witness, made all the more touching because it was clear he really isn't a good speaker and hated doing this. He just feels he has to do it, as a person, so he does.

I was once very cynical of celebrities who take up charities after achieving success. "Who cares what you think, you're paid to sing, not talk." After hearing Bono and then Gabriel, and thinking about recent pop culture, I've realized I could not have been more wrong. If you are in a position where people listen to what you say, and so you can help people just with your words, and you do NOT speak, that is an evil act. I think about celebrities who use their fame to go to every club and fuck every guy they meet and make porn tapes, or celebrities who use their fame to rape little boys and get away with it, and I think, you know, we could probably use a few more preachy ones.

I went up to Peter again after his talk and gave him my card; he has an idea for something like Google Earth that could track the incidents they document on Witness for everyone to view, and I know that such a thing would live or die based on how snazzy its interface was. And, you know, maybe this is my chance to directly improve the world, instead of just giving money to other people to do it for me.


In-between sessions Thomas Dolby has been getting up on stage and using something like GarageBand (it's on a Mac, but I can't quite make out the interface) to make little miniature jams before our eyes. Today he did a remix of "Big Time" in about five minutes that was incredibly funky -- at first you could hear lining up samples of the signature flute and horn bits, and then he started laying down tracks one at a time, and then he just jammed on top of the loops he'd created. I could not believe how cool it sounded.

Thomas is also a real introvert in person; he's not very animated in conversation and he tends to hang out at the back of the room by himself at parties before he disappears for the night. But when he's making music he dances around and acts it out and looks like the life of the party. There was a voice clip he was mixing in to the music as well; I couldn't make out the words but he'd both mouth them AND act them out whenever he'd play the clip, and towards the end of it he'd raise one finger straight in the air as he talked; as if he were willing, indeed, to put too fine a point on it.

There were clearly some Dolby fans in the audience who thought this was the most amazing thing ever (including me), but what was funny is how many people were just obliviously typing on their laptops or chatting on their cell phones (yes, I'm looking at you, rude guy sitting two seats to my left who took two calls during the session), unimpressed by the minor musical miracle happening right in front of us. If I can engage in a bit of hyperbole, imagine you are one of the Wise Men and a guy in overalls shuffles up to you and is all, "Hey, dude, can you move to the side? I gotta shovel this hay..."


Julia Sweeney is here. Once best known for her incredibly annoying SNL character "Pat" (seriously, WTF?), she's now famous for her one-woman show about losing God, which I've actually wanted to see for a while. She's going to do a section of it for us, I guess; I was standing in line next to her (the speakers and the attendees all stand in the same line to watch the other sessions) and noticed she wasn't talking to anyone and looked very... lost? Even stars feel out of place some times, I remind myself. I told her I was looking forward to her session, and she said she wasn't sure yet what she was going to do. Her favorite bit, it seems, is nineteen and a half minutes long, and the sessions are VERY strictly limited to eighteen minutes.

I let her know that (being an obsessive-compulsive) I've been watching the timer clock on every session, and I happen to know that Chris (the host) will lean forward when the clock hits 0:00, but he won't stand up and move towards you until -1:00. "Nineteen minutes!" she exclaimed; apparently cutting thirty seconds wouldn't be such a chore.

Now, if she gets cut off, I'm going to feel really bad. On the other hand, maybe if I hadn't told her, she'd do 18 minutes of "Pat," which would probably prompt Peter Gabriel to start taking pictures of us and posting them on his torture site.



Anonymous Ross said...

"and I know that such a thing would live or die based on how snazzy its interface was."

Not that I don't like DL, I do, but I can't wait to see what your next product is going to be (apart from DL2). If I wasn't already grown up I'd love to be able to design UI like you do (rather than being a backend monkey - oh that came out all wrong).

When you're done with these cool TED posts - more posts on your thought process for UI designs would be cool :)

February 23, 2006 3:21 PM

Anonymous Daniel Brauer said...

Yes, more on UI (although I like this stuff too).

February 23, 2006 3:57 PM

Blogger Mike said...

Peter Gabriel's Real World Records helped a lot of artists who otherwise wouldn't have been heard. His music is what got me interested in African (especially Senegalese) music.

February 23, 2006 4:11 PM

Anonymous Matt Lyon said...

That software Dolby was using was probably Ableton Live, which is a wikedly awesome piece of software for the performing musician. The guys who wrote it are musicians themselves, and were dissatisfied with the "engineer's" software for making music at the time (Cubase, Logic, etc).

February 23, 2006 6:12 PM


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