Tania Luna- How a penny made me feel like a millionaire

In this touching talk, Tania Luna explains how she managed to turn moments in her deprived childhood into things of wonder.
Aged 6, Luna and her family were granted asylum in the United States. It was five years after the Chernobyl disaster, when Luna had spent nine months in hospital recovering.
As a child, Luna looked forward to things like bananas and chocolate in the U.S. When she found a penny on the ground of their homeless shelter, she assumed it must have been left there by a rich man. When they rescued a bag of cuddly toys from the trash some time later, she had more toys than shed ever had. Even today, being with her husband and watching their dog roll in grass evokes a huge sense of wonder for Luna.
This is an excellent and moving meditation on childhood moments. It reminds us to pull ourselves out of middle class worries and appreciate the small things in life.

Day 188: Pico Iyer- Where is home?

So what do you answer when people ask where you’re from?
Do you reply based on your ethnicity, or where you were born. Maybe it’s where you pay your taxes and dentist bills, or which place goes deepest inside you .
Go to Hong Kong, Sydney And Vancouver and most people are more international than ever before. 220 million people live in countries not their own; this is representative of the fifth largest nation on earth. The average resident in Toronto is a foreigner. A girl living in Australia may have been born in the U.K. to a Thai father and a French mother, while her boyfriend, who was born in Ireland, has parents from Canada and Brazil. With cases like this becoming increasingly commonplace, home now is more of an ongoing project to achieve perfection.
Years ago Pico Iyer’s home in California was burnt to the ground. All he had in the world was a toothbrush he’d just bought. He couldn’t point to any physical place as his home so his home had to be whatever he carried inside him. When his grandparents were born, they had their sense of community, society and even enmity assigned to them already.
There are many advantages to the new system of internationality. Being surrounded by foreigners makes it difficult to take anything for granted. Travel is like being in love.
Yet it’s often only by stopping movement that you can see where to go; get out of your life and the world and you can see what your home is. Movement is a fantastic privilege but only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. Iyer details his own stay in a monastery as an instrumental time in his own development. Being alone with his thoughts and nothing to do allowed him to re- evaluate. While he doesn’t recommend this to everybody, his conclusion is a useful motto. ‘Home is not only the place where you sleep, but the place where you stand.’

Day 187: Will our kids be a different species?

When we look at the history of creation so far, we don’t appear until about 99.96% of the way in. According to Juan Enriquez, this begs two questions; are we are the be-all-and-end-all, and could we upgrade.
Great changes have taken place already. There have been at least 200 upgrades of humanoids. We coexisted with at least eight other humanoids species. The difference between species humans and Neanderthals – .004%. Scientists have recently altered the memories of mice. It’s not completely inconceivable that someday we will be able to download our memories into a new body.
As further evidence of this rapid change, Enriquez points to the increased autism incidence over the past decade. Potentially the human brain is reacting in a hyper plastic way. We’re currently in a state where we try to take as much data in a day as people used to take in a lifetime.
There are further possible predisposing factors to our change in status. One is our fast food fetish; there’s some evidence that obesity and diet have an effect on brain development. There’s also the renewed sexiness of the geek. Because these geeks all get together, they concentrate geographically and find like- minded mates to reinforce their genes. But is this all too much information? There’s a variation in how people react to this overload also.
Enriquez’ closing message is simple. We are becoming a species that can change our own evolution by altering the plants, biology and other factors around us. this transition is so quick that our grand-kids and great- grand kids may be a very different species.

Day 186: Roberto D’ Angelo & Francesca Fedell- our baby’s illness, a life lesson

In this beautiful short talk, Roberto D’ Angelo and Francesca Fedell speak about their disabled child and the important lesson they learned when looking after him.
Any parent will tell you that when a child develops a disability, its life changing. Suddenly they need to accommodate a number of extra people in their lives; physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, doctors. It’s easy for their thinking to become centred on what’s wrong with their child and ways to fix these failures. D’Angelo and Fedell realised this was happening to them when they saw their son looking at them instead of at the fancy technological toy they’d bought to help his development. He was aware of their disappointment.
Realising that they had to become better mirrors for Mario, they started to examine his strengths and look at him as an opportunity to improve themselves. They decided they could offer their patience to Mario. They brought him travelling to show him the best things they could. At the end of this talk he appears on stage in front of the TED crowd.
And their parting message?
‘ Consider what you have as a gift and what you miss as an opportunity. ‘

Day 185: 2 Young Scientists break down plastics with bacteria

This is the week of inspirational teenagers on TED; this time, two try to find a means to breakdown plastic. Miranda Wang and Jenny Yao were in year 12 when they had a series of accidents in the science lab that revealed a compound which breaks down phthalates.
When plastics are mixed with organic matter and debris it’s impossible to pick them out. They cause serious problems, including the destruction of Ecosystems. According to experts, the ocean is a soup of plastic debris. It’s clear that cutting out plastics isn’t enough; we need to cut out the waste.
Phthalates are additives used in everyday plastic making which easily escape into the environment. We have high exposure to them in cosmetic, baby food products and they can be easily taken in through skin and inhaled. They’ve also been shown to cause cancer by acting as a hormone disruptant. Wang and Lao stumbled across the notion that bacteria living in areas could be used to break down phthalates, and presented their idea to a professor at the University of British Columbia.
Wang and Lao found the most successful cultures they tested came from cultures of an opposite contamination area; therefore they wondered if they could compare the degradation effects of bacteria by comparing different contamination areas; as well as what bacteria could break down phthalates. They identified one of three possible strains of bacteria, then extracted enzymes which reacted with an intermediate of phalate acid. Using such reactions, phthalates could be transformed into CO2, alcohol and water.
Breaking down plastics bio- synthetically seems the best solution to the growing problem of endangerment of habitats. With this in mind, the girls wish to go on to create nano- organisms which would break down a wide variety of contaminants.

Tom Thum- The Orchestra in my mouth

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see this beatbox performance by Tom Thum at TEDx Sydney, and I think you should too.
Thum hails from Brisbane and performs in the hip- hop circus crew, ‘ Tom Tom Crew.’ He won the team battle in the World Beatbox Championships in 2005 with Joel Turner and came second in the Scribble Jam Beatbox Battles in 2006. He teaches hip hop around Australia.
By the end of this talk, Thum has reproduced everything from the didgeridoo to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean.’ He surely is deserving of the Guardian’s description of him;
‘Tom Thum appears to have swallowed an entire orchestra and several backing singers.’

Day 183: Photographing the hidden story

Ryan Lobo has been involved in documentary filmmaking for over ten years. During that time, he has also taken thousands of photographs while filming, coming to the realisation that sometimes a photograph can reveal the truth, without agenda or otherwise. In this talk he shares some of his pictures.
In 2007, Lobo travelled to three war zones,  in Liberia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He began to question his own integrity in storytelling, wondering if he’d compromised himself. He decided that when he’d worked for compassion and purpose, fulfilment and success arrived on their own. 
Here he shows the audience a number of photographs he took of a warlord named Joshua in Liberia. Joshua was one of the most prolific mass murderers alive in the world at the time, responsible for the deaths of up to ten thousand people directly. Lobo photographed him seeking forgiveness from the families of people he’d killed, and saw a capacity to forgive which he’d never thought possible.
Lobo’s second story is that of an all- women group of Indian peacekeepers who worked with the U.N. in Liberia. The women use negotiation and tolerance more often than an armed response; one photograph shows them smiling at a drunk man who’d been moving menacingly towards Lobo’s camera. These peacekeepers inspired many women to join the police force in India. 
He also did a story about the Delhi fire service, in a film which still airs on the National Geographic. According to Lobo, when the film airs he and his colleagues still receive congratulations. The story also inspired many of the firemen to work harder as they received praise instead of abuse. The pictures shown in this talk illustrate some of the difficulty experienced by the fire service in dealing with a city in which more than 14 million people live in slums. 
Lobo’s photographs and stories aim to portray people who are heroic and good. This is his personal motto behind storytelling; ‘ focus on what is dignified, courageous and beautiful, and it grows.’