Friday, February 27, 2009

HI's Youth Exchange Program: Spend two weeks in France, all costs paid!

Want to spend two weeks in France, all expenses paid, with a group of fun people from around the world?? Read on...

A lot of people ask me how I started my crazy world traveling. The truth is that I grew up very sheltered like a lot of other people. I had very open-minded parents and that helped a lot. But they didn't know a lot about these types of things. The opportunities were things that I just jumped on, and lucked out with the rest of it.

One of the opportunities that started it all off was my youth hostelling experience at 22. I was a young, inexperienced traveler; all my life, I'd read and been very taken with British literature (I come from an ex-colonial country and it still has significant remnants of colonialism). So my sister and I went to England for a month, with our bookbags as our backpacks, newspaper articles as our guides, and a couple hundred dollars in our pockets. We stayed at youth hostels, particularly the ones run by Hostelling International (HI). They opened my world up. I met people from all over and exchanged stories. I got traveling tips, made friends, and became a travel addict. It all started there.

A year later, I got a wind of their wonderful exchange programs and did one to France. I'm still in touch with the people I met then. I've visited them, they've visited me. We're all family. It was wonderful, and just bolstered my travel itch.

Now I want you to have that experience too. HI's France exchange program just opened up. APPLY, APPLY, APPLY! Spend two weeks in France, ALL costs paid. Just FYI, you must be between 18-23 years of age. So spread the word...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Innovating through negation

Part of good innovation is knowing when to say "no." That 's equally, if not more important than saying 'yes.' In a recent article, Google Senior VP Jeff Huber gave insight into their process for turning things down, and how they are still able to wow the world with their innovative products.

I suggest that you read the article, but here is my take on Google's process:

a. Diligent consumer testing: Know your audience and give them what they want. Any product that repeatedly fails consumer tests is immediately ditched.

b. Diligent listening: Google purposely puts out less than perfect products and then hones them around customer suggestions through their active product blogs.

b. Getting the fans and making the buck: If a new product won't generate ad revenue, the product is dropped. The bottom-line, particularly in this economy, is it should have a lot of fans. By Seth Godin's definition, a fan is someone (in this case a user) who will proselytize on your behalf. Getting more fans gets more ad revenue, which keeps the company growing.

Google's first-line of testing is their large and phenomenally brilliant employee base. If a product doesn't create a fan base among their employees, it probably won't make it in the "real world." Its what the googlers call "eating your own dog-food."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Magic of Letters

One of my favorite blogs that I subscribe to is the NPR series called "This I Believe" that outlines the thoughts and lessons of remarkable men and women from around the world.

Inspired by the "This I Believe" podcast in the United States, a local radio station in Nepal is doing a version of their own "Mero Jindagi" (literally translated to "My Life", but meant to convey the same sentiment as "This I believe").

This week, Chameli Waiba gave her beautiful and powerful story titled "The Magic of Letters." Chameli lives in a rural village in Nepal, was a child bride at 15, and didn't learn to read until she was 21. Learning the alphabet, and later, how to read opened up her world. Today, she heads social and environmental movements in the village she lives in, as well those surrounding hers. In her essay, she talks about the power of letters.

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

India makes a new laptop

At TED2009 a couple of weeks ago, Nicholas Negroponte strode atop the TED stage yet again (he somehow seems to keep getting time on that stage!), and threw a couple of his OLPCs about the floor (heck, I would have done that years ago for free!). He also announced that he is finally releasing or open-sourcing all the hardware from the OLPC (wow...and this took only how many years!!).

In the meantime, India has plans to release its own version of a laptop of sorts (not sure if it'll be a laptop or something better!). BBC has the story.

India says it is planning to produce a low cost gadget intended for use by school children and students.

The storage device has been developed as part of a broader national plan to update the technology used by Indian colleges and schools.

Details are scant, but it is planned to use wireless to connect and have 2GB of memory onboard. Reports of the cost vary from $10 to $100.

[read more]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Amazing Time Magazine Photoessays

Time Magazine photographers have outdone themselves again. In the past couple of weeks, they've put out some powerful photoessays on a range of interesting topics. Here are some:

1. Can Change Come to Congo? By amazing photographer James Nachtway.

2. Happy 200th Birthday Darwin
. A collection of photographs of Darwin and his work.

3. Spiritual Healing Around the World.

4. Portraits of Abraham Lincoln.

5. Slumdog Entrepreneurs. Real life entrepreneurs in the same slums (Dharavi) that the move was shot in (see picture above; photo credit: Daniel Beheruhak).

6. Healthcare in Tehran.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Favorite TED Moments: Conversations with Barry Schwartz

(photo host)

My first post on the series "my favorite TED moments" is up on the Fellows blog.
Among my many favorite memories is talking to Barry before his talk, following up with him after his talk, and then finding out the story behind his talk. Allow me to share this.
[read more]

Links I liked

1. The Harvard Admission Process: How Harvard gets its Best and Brightest

2. Outside of Romeo Dulaire, Alison Des Forges was the Rwandan Genocide's most outspoken critic. A wonderful role model for journalists. Read Slate Magazine's beautiful tribute to her.

3. 17 Career Lessons from IDEO's David Kelley.

4. Big Boys Do Cry: the Tears of Grown Men.

5. Is pub culture really destroying the Indian Fabric?? You may not know this but this past valentine's day brought this topic to the front. Hindu extremists are turning increasingly hostile towards the "modernization" of India and what it brings with it. This piece was in response to that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

TED FAQ III: presenting at TED and other questions

(photo credit: Erik Hersman)

Q. Did you give a TED talk? When can we see it?

The short answer is, yes, I did give a talk at TED. I doubt you will see it (thank god!) because I don't remember saying anything intelligent.

Just to give you some perspective, there are three speaker platforms at TED. The main TED stage (where the important invited speakers speak!), the TED University stage (where audience members apply to speak), and the TEDFellows stage (where the TEDFellows presented). Only the best talks make it onto

Minutes are a way of gauging your importance at TED. The more minutes you get, the more important your speech is perceived to be. The main stage speakers largely get 18 mins, with intermittent 3-5 min speakers. The TED University speakers get anywhere from 3-6 mins; and the TEDFellows get 3 mins.

So I gave a 3-min speech on the TEDFellows stage.

Q. What was your talk about??

It was entitled "What I learned about happiness." For weeks, I thought about all the topics that were most important to me, and I realized that most of my life has been in the quest for fulfillment and happiness. So in 3-mins I spelled out my biggest lesson about it. It wasn't rocket science, and everyone already knows about what I had to say.

I'm proud to say that I put a graph in my talk, making it a technical talk about happiness. :-) (see picture above!)

Q. Did all the Fellows speak about random things?

Nope. Most Fellows were smarter than me, doing exciting work, and presented about their work.

Q. What was it like to give your talk?

Even though it was a small room, with a small audience, I was extremely nervous. I practiced for days, late into the night and several times the next morning in the shower. (I can speak for my roommate too, who was equally nervous and doing the same thing!).

Three minutes go by VERY quickly. There is a giant red clock counting down your seconds and its all you see when you are up there. When your time is up, it starts blinking wildly. I don't remember what I said for the entire 2:59 of my talk. What I do remember is that the second I saw the blinking light, I forgot what I had to say and walked off the stage. The audience was nice enough to call me back and ask me to finish because I left them hanging (!!)

It was horrible. Thankfully its a blur!

How to motivate someone... this speech:

[Hat tip to Bob Sutton: read more here]

Doing what is right

How often have you seen this picture in the media?? Look at their boards. Not what you expected??

One of my fundamental beliefs in the world of aid and global development and peace and unity is that change will NOT happen unless it comes from within (this applies to people on a personal level too). Indians need to take responsibility for their own and help develop their country; Africans need to do the same with Africa; and Americans need to do the same with America. Don't like what's going on in your community?? Then find a way to fix it!

Its why I am so proud of the Indian muslims for making a silent, public statement about their religion. During the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai when several innocent people were slaughtered by terrorists who were doing their "jihad" in the name of Islam, the Indian muslim community vocally supported the innocent victims and stood behind their core religious values of tolerance and love. For anyone who is angry with Islam, go read the Holy Koran. There are pages and pages about love and peace and unity, yet the terrorists and the media never focus on them. The real muslims need to come out and show the world what their religion is really about.

Now their voices are even louder, and I want to thank Tom Friedman of the NYTimes for highlighting this story. To date, none of these so-called "martyrs" of this terrorist plot have been afforded a proper burial.

All nine are still in the morgue because the leadership of India's Muslim community has called them by their real name - "murderers" not "martyrs" - and is refusing to allow them to be buried in the main Muslim cemetery of Mumbai, the 7.5-acre Bada Kabrastan graveyard, run by the Muslim Jama Masjid Trust.

"People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim," Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.

"Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam," explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. "Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is 'fasad.' Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery."

I'm proud of the Indian muslims, particularly the Mumbai muslim community, for doing what is right. It is quite often, very hard to do what is right. Doing this, has made the Indian muslims vulnerable to threats and every kind of low-level mediocrity that their lesser "brothers" will use against them; and more so, in a country where they are a significant minority. But they've stood up and stood loud. And as a human being, that makes me proud!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TED FAQ II: What was the best part of TED??

The Fellows pose together on the last day of TED (this was after a few people had cried). (photo credit: Tin Ho Chow)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "When ideas fail, words come in very handy." This is not the case at TED. There are so many ideas being passed around, that words fail! Probably hence the 18 minute limit for speakers...

Probably one of the most popular questions I've gotten is:

Q. What was the best part of TED??

There are just too many things that were sooo good that I can't name them all. As I said, in the coming week, I will list some of my favorite moments and why they were so important to me.

Still, I've thought about this one a lot and here's my best answer:

The best part for me was two-fold:

a. the Fellows: Going to TED was awesome. But being there as a Fellow was ten-times better. Why?? Because everything is more fun if you have someone fun to share it with. And the Fellows were a LOT of fun. They are all such smart, young, enthusiastic, accomplished, idealistic visionaries and yet amazingly down-to-earth, lovely human beings. I'll admit that I was very trepidatious about meeting the Fellows. As I said before, everyone was better than me at everything. Yet meeting them quickly assuaged my fears. None of them knew how cool they were and that made everything ok. All of us were equally scared and intimidated and wondering how the heck we had ended up there. That's fodder for instant bonding, if I saw any!

By Day 2 (because of our pre-conference activities, our TED was two days longer than what the others had), we were all a tight bunch. By Day 6, we were crying when we left each other (yes, grown men cried as well!).

Honestly, we livened up TED a lot...atleast I think so. We ran circles around a lot of the attendees until they were dizzy, accosted everyone possible, hugged them, asked dumb questions, danced a conga line at every single party and dragged every innocent bystander in with us, started a lot of after-parties, enjoyed the food better than any other attendees (ever seen poor people around a table with unlimited free food and drink??), and cheered louder and harder than anyone else...

That's youth, enthusiasm, and poverty for you. I can't think of a better group of people to have gone to TED with.

b. Validation: Ever heard the phrase, "tell me your company and I'll tell you who you are??" Well, there's some truth to it. Surround yourself with brilliant people and magic happens. Its a strange feeling when the producer of your favorite Frontline episode, or a genius professor like Hans Rosling, or Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and his entire family are interested in hearing what you have to say. Its VERY strange in the beginning. But after two days of this, you begin to take yourself seriously. You begin to think you matter, that your ideas matter, and that you aren't that crazy (and the TED people weren't crazy to take you in as a Fellow) anymore. People you respect actually seek you out to talk to you. At the end of four days, you feel validated. You matter. Suddenly ANYTHING is possible. This is why we are all SO energized, and actually believing that we can affect change!

(this is why you should apply to the TED Fellows program!)

Monday, February 16, 2009

TED FAQ I: What was it like at TED??

Having successfully released more bugs on the audience and survived an interview with a cautiously "mac-ed out" Chris Anderson, Bill Gates shares laughs with Paul Allen and other original Microsofters over dinner at TED. Read what it was like to be there first-hand. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

I've been getting a LOT of questions about TED...what it was like to be there, what it meant to be there, and what were my favorite parts.

If you live in the Los Angeles area and are a friend (or want to be a friend!), I'm going to try and have something called a TEDx party (or maybe several of these, depending on how many show interest) at some point. Essentially, TEDx is where you do your own version of a TED-like event in your surroundings with your community. At mine, I want to show some videos and talk about my experiences, and answer the umpteen questions I've been getting from friends and family.

For those of you who can't make it, I'm going to try and recount some of my favorite moments to give you a glimpse of what it was like to be there among these wonderful geniuses of the world.

Here are some FAQ's to start:

Q. What is TED?

Ummm...Go to the website, watch some of the talks, get more information, and tell me what you think. In short, its the bestest and most kick@$$ conference man ever made.

Q. What was TED like??

It was an absolutely amazing experience. EVERYBODY at the conference has done something spectacular with themselves. I like to say that everyone is a somebody. The wisdom, the brainpower, the humility, the speakers, the audience, the musicians, the conversation there is unparalleled.

Here are some ways I would describe TED:

- an intense brain orgasm. Really...its very intense, just the right length, with amazing mental and emotional stimulation, and you remember it for life!

- the Academy Awards for Geeks. TED celebrates nerdiness in all its forms, by bringing together some of the greatest known and unknown nerds of the world under one roof, letting them give timed speeches under a spotlight, and giving them awesome goody bags just for coming.

- an intense booster shot of MIT goodness. Not sure if you've been to MIT, but its amazing. At all times, it contains some of the most hard-working, brilliant, well-rounded and humble people in the world working for the betterment of humanity. Its inspiration in a nutshell. At TED its the same, only there's good food at all times and you are generally a person of significant income (at MIT, both of these are sorely lacking). The exception to the income part are us poor Fellows!

- inspiration in a nutshell and nerd heroine. For those of you who watch the TEDtalks regularly, TED is addictive. You get incredible highs and lows and energy levels from it. You have withdrawal symptoms and anticipation symptoms. The time in TED is almost blissful. No wonder it sells out immediately and is the hardest ticket in town, inspite of its hefty pricetag!

Q. Are all the people nice there??

Well, that's a good question. Define "nice."

I'd say a great number of the people who have really done something are amazingly and surprisingly down-to-earth and approachable. If there is something that will totally disarm and put you in your place, it is this. Many won't even speak of their accomplishments and when they do in even the humblest terms, it blows you away.

Still, this is the real world, and there were a number of people running around with some sort of a "Bush Complex," named after the glorious ex-president of the U.S, people with enough means, fame, and brains to get to where they are (while everyone else wonders how!), who were there largely to network and talk down to people. If you are a Fellow, the "Bushes" avoid you almost entirely because you are worthless to them, except to allow them the chance to gloat.

Q. Did you encounter any "Bushes"?

No comment.

(Wondering what's a "Bush"?? read the last paragraph of the previous answer to "Are all the people nice there?")

Q. Did you see any famous people?? Who did you see??

Define "famous."

Like I said, its the world's best brains in all categories coming together. So most definitely yes, I saw a lot of people who I considered celebrities in their fields. TED has a strict confidential policy, so I can't mention a lot of people. But among many others, I trailed Seth Godin on a walk to lunch; counted Bill Gates' semi-gray hairs when I sat behind him; waved to Vice President Al Gore in the hallways; walked arm-in-arm with Regina Spektor; and hugged Ray Anderson for being such an inspiration. And yes, all these people sat with the rest of the audience on other days. There are no special places at TED.

more tomorrow... (and feel free to send me more questions!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

BusinessWeek is looking for the Best Social Entrepreneurs in the US...know any?

Yup, BusinessWeek is looking for America's best social entrepreneurs. Go here and here for more info.

Nominations close on Feb 20, 2009.

Hat-tip to netsquared.

Links I liked

1. Married for 50 years. A photoessay of love. Who would've thought that in this day and age, marriages like this still exist!

2. Top 10 Reflections of a First-Time TEDster. If you want to know why people spend $6000 for a 4-day ticket to this conference, some every year, then read the post!

3. How to solve our the US Credit Crisis. This cracked me up, but is also SO totally true!

4. Ten most bizarre soft drinks (I would assume that they are all being consumed, else they wouldn't be sold now, would they!). Warning: high queaziness factor here!

5. Bearing children is not always a woman's choice. More of the world needs to understand this.

6. What the hell is going on with the Ivory Coast?? Can reporters get it right already!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Eco Seafood and a TED update

Via a friend, JB, these links for "eco seafood":

On a separate note, I'm very sorry about the lack of posts last week. I thought I did a good job of channeling the TED Fellows' blog through Tworque, but obviously that went terribly wrong, because I don't see anything! Just go directly to the blog and subscribe there.

For the most part, most of us were fairly quiet largely because TED was just too intense and we were all just too busy overloading on our experiences to take time out to blog. To be honest, I didn't get the people who sat around with their blackberries and looked bored. I hope I never get that way!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The TED Fellows and their blog

In 2007, TEDAfrica Fellow William Kamakwamba took the TED Community by storm. At 15, he had built a windmill generator from bicycle parts using a library book as a guide....this in rural Malawi.

So...somehow I got into the same category. I'm a TED Fellow (phew, finally I can tell was secret until this morning!). Who knew I could be?? (well, other than my mom...thanks mom!). And if I could get in, so can you. Applications open on the 27th for TED Global Oxford, and TED India.

Anyways, the Fellows have a blog and I'm feeding the entire stream through Tworque this week, so that you can get all the voices beyond just mine. I'm not the most tech-savvy person (ironically!), so advance apologies for any issues. If you'd rather just subscribe to the blog directly, go here.

So that's it for this week. See ya next week!

(God, I'm SO scared to be excited!)

Perils of Intense Intellectual Stimulation

Everyone knows intelligence is sexy. Which, I guess, makes intellectual stimulation of the kind TED offers in Long Beach this week the ultimate in arousal. Now, as I get ready to drive from Studio City to Long Beach, I am a little worried about my brain. You see, in the normal course of everyday life, my brain likely to get aroused by an amazing idea or story once a month, if I’m lucky. Some months can come and go with it getting no mind action at all.

But, this is TED and I’m not sure my brain can tolerate being subjected to a sustained and intense level of intelligent stimulation over four days. And in a theatre full of equally aroused thinkers and doers. What will they be thinking? What might they end up doing? Is Long Beach about to become the planet’s intellectual erogenous zone?

Could one of those brainy neuroscientists please bring his live action MRI scanners and monitor the activity of the signals from the room? Merge the data, make it into a Google Earth kind of display, play it live on YouTube, beam it into space to make contact with intelligent life out there…Oh, I don’t know. I think I’m losing the plot even before getting there.

See, what did I tell you? My brain is out of practice.

Maybe TED should come with a health warning like you see at the end of those late night commercials: “If arousal lasts longer than 4 hours call your doctor”.

Taghi Amirani 

TED Fellow 2009

Posted via web from TED Fellows 2009