TEDx Manchester 2016 Review

Valentine's Day wasn't quite what I expected it to be this year. Only our second year as a married couple we opted to spend this year doing something a little different.

Avoiding the money hungry retail and restaurateur giants hoping to prize every penny of our hard earned cash on a once romantic ritual. Instead, this year we decided to be inspired by speakers at the independent Manchester organisation of the world renowned TED event that was TEDx Manchester.

Having watched many TED talks online and also previously attending TEDx Liverpool in 2011 I was excited to see what and how people would present their story.

There was a great mixture of talent and inspiring talks on offer throughout the day. I'd like to highlight some of my favourite talks of the day starting with a talk by Tom Cheesewright, the founder of Book of the Future. Tom's talk (you are all bionic now) drove home the realisation and comparison that we are all actually cyborgs.

The comparison of the 30 year old description of a cyborg, to the way we currently go about the world in 2016 is actually pretty scary. A cyborg then, was generally considered part human and part machine. Tom breaks down how similar we are as human beings today to how cyborgs were perceived back then; relating our online activity as an extension to our standard human brain. We store our calendars, photo's memories in online repositories such as facebook, instagram or google drive. our sense of direction has been replaced by technology such as sat nav or google maps.

When you put this in perspective it does actually make us part human and part computer. We are all cyborgs.

The day continued to impress, and inspire. From a beautiful performance by Hayley Parkes, who silenced us with her breathtaking piano renditions, to the super energetic Yandass Ndlovu. Yandass, who as the last speaker of the day really made us sit up and watch her amazing energy inspired performance in a series of dance moves whilst sharing her life in a nutshell story.

If I had to pick a favourite talk of the day, it would have to be the live coding demonstration by Sam Aaron. Sam gave a mix of a talk and a demonstration of Sonic_Pi, a computer program that he has written to highlight how simple coding can be and what amazing things you can achieve with a few simple lines of code. Coding can be a daunting prospect for a lot of people, but Sam argues that perhaps that's because of the way it is taught. For most people learning to code doesn't offer much gain or isn't quite exciting until you get a decent way into learning a language. Sam's aim is to try to change the approach and mindset that coding is boring.

Sam introduces sound into coding and with a few simple characters you can start to create sounds. "Play 80" is all you need to send a beep out of your computer speakers. Sam continued to show that small progressive enhancements to those characters could dramatically change the sounds coming out of the speakers.

Quickly Sam showed us how to create some amazing sounds and introduced the notion of live coding. Live coding is achieved by creating sound loops, tweaking their values as the beat goes on.

Sam's Sonic_Pi is completely free and works on most computers. It can be downloaded here for you to play and experiment with coding to make music. Sonic_Pi brings the act of play directly into learning and is a great way to begin to understand how computer programs are written.

TEDx Manchester was a great, albeit not the most romantic way to spend a sunday being inspired and opening your mind to other people's live and interests. My wife said something to me in the car on the way home that really sums up the beauty of TED. She said, "I never knew people could have such passion about things I never knew existed".

I would recommend anyone who hasn't been to a TED talk or anyone who is sceptical about spending a whole day in a theater to go online and listen to some of the most inspiring people on this planet.

If TED changes one thing in your life for the better, and I believe it will, then it's instantly worth it.

Here are a few links to some of my favourite TED talks

Jane McGonigal:
The game that can give you 10 extra years of life

Shawn Anchor:
The happy secret to better work

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