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2011 TEDxColumbus


Mark’s dad thought he would grow out of it. He didn’t.

What didn’t Mark grow out of? Bugs. Bugs bugs bugs – looking at them, thinking about them, learning from them.

Mark didn’t expect people to pay him to do it either, but they did. (He’s been a natural history and biology educator for over 20 years). Correction: at first, people paid him to show bugs to their kids. Not one to stay penned in, Mark forged conversations about bugs with adults (the difference in attention spans helped). When he gets a group of adults together, to talk about bugs, he asks them to define respect. Most—if not all—of the time, the definitions involve other people, e.g. treating others as we would wish to be treated. Mark starts with a linguistic slant: spect = “look”, re = “back/again.”

Look again. And again. And again. Mark can’t stress it enough: the more time you take to look at the world around you, and not just bugs but people too, you will never cease to be amazed. When Mark Berman says this, it’s neither trite nor hollow. It’s earnest … and it’s contagious. My seat for this TED event is at the far back of a pretty darn big room. Watching the audience as Mark talked, I did not have to look again too many times to see the delight and bemused amazement we all felt as Mark launched into the next part of his talk:

Bug video footage!

First up, a small little metallic wasp. Females build a single cell nest with great verve and careful calibration, vibrating their sizeable mandibles like a little drill into the ground, buzzing across the open plains where Mark often walks up and down, soaking it all in — when Mark gets particularly excited about bugs, he kind of starts to buzz about like one too. “You would never see it unless you took the time to stop and look again!” he says. The audience chimes in with applause.

Next, Mark admits he has a hard time answering the ‘what’s your favorite bug’ question. Pretty quickly after saying so, however, we learn it’s the jumping spider. They’re visual predators, very agile, and “one of the few bugs you can see think” (ants are another). “So interactive and with such excellent vision!” Mark comments, showing a scene of a spider tapping on glass, doing 8-point turns, trying to figure out what’s going on beneath the petridish cover. (Never a spider fan myself, Mark’s footage pretty quickly convinces me otherwise.  Now I’m thinking – it is an adorable little many-legged thinking machine.) The second-biggest applause of the talk is earned when Mark shows the jumping spider coyly moving a fly wing away from its face to pose for the camera (previously it had refused to allow a profile shot).

The biggest applause? Garnered when Mark shows video footage of another jumping spider, an eager male woo-er approaching a less-than-enthused female mate. With the aid of the recordings of a powerful microphone, we grimace and cheer as this little bug works up a storm of audible clicks and vocalizations that become an increasingly insistent little sports car motor of sweet nothings. As he moves ever closer, the audience grows more and more involved. It ends well for the male, the audience cheers, and Mark smiles another big bug smile.

“You should get used to looking for and at new things,” Mark said to close his bug extravaganza. “You’re going to want to show it to people too. That’s how the world works.”


2011 TEDxColumbus
Back in college, I took a class about Eastern religion. At the time, I was pretty stressed, overloaded with coursework and internship hours. But in that class, I learned about something called mindfulness. And what I learned helped me get through the stresses of that very busy time.

Maryanna Klatt came to TEDxColumbus to talk about dealing with stress using a version of this Eastern mindfulness. And her approach is a little less Eastern religion and a little more practical psychology.

Klatt relays this interesting tidbit: construction workers at OSU have to do yoga while on the job. And not for aspirational reasons: accident numbers go down when these workers spend time focused on mindfulness training.

The allusion to yoga is not an accident. Klatt is a yoga instructor, and yoga has its origins in the Eastern approach to mindfulness that I learned in my class in college. Klatt’s spin is that yoga is only part of the picture: proper stress reduction also takes community, re-framing the stress with mindfulness, and stress-reducing musical cues. The combination of these aspects is a practical plan for stress reduction.

That practical aspect is the one that Klatt specializes in. In fact, her talk was also a training exercise in mindfulness. Near the start of the talk, she asked audience members to envision the things that stress us. She kept asking the audience to think about what stresses them and why. She finished with an actual demonstration of the mindfulness process, complete with yoga and relaxing music.

According to Klatt, the mindfulness aspect of the relaxation exercise is the key. Mindfulness means paying attention to the things that stress us out and realizing that we have control over those things.

The kicker here is that Klatt not only teaches yoga, but she has the clinical data to show that patients who engage in her mindfulness techniques benefit from them. They report feeling better, but tests also show that their bodies are responding to the training. (The program is also working in Denmark, apparently.)

That’s what really hooked me here. It’s sometimes hard to get behind mindfulness as an exercise when it doesn’t seem supported by science or clinical observation. But Klatt is here to tell us that, not only has she observed her mindfulness training working, she’s also documented it using data.

The bottom line: mindfulness reduces stress. Klatt showed the data to prove it; TEDxColumbus attendees have had the experience.


2011 TEDxColumbus
1976 was a big year for young Jamie Greene. He had red white and blue bedspreads, red white and blue gravel in his aquarium, and, best of all, a red white and blue bike. It was the nation’s bicentennial and Americana was everywhere!  Today’s moment in time, and this upcoming year, is also a big one for Jamie Greene. With his help, Columbus is gearing up for its own bicentennial celebration, scheduled 50 days, 12 hours, and approximately 50 minutes (as of 11:15am) away. Not that Jamie Green is counting, and not that we’ve been promised more red white and blue aquarium accessories. (Yet.)

Columbus is getting primed for 12-months of “robust commemoration of our city.” So what? (Jamie’s question). Here’s part of the answer: a Gallup poll has shown that the level of emotional attachment people have to their cities is the most significant indicator of that community’s capacity for growth and economic expansion. Here’s another morsel of an answer: Columbus (specifically, Battelle’s operation here) is the reason m&ms don’t melt in your hand! Both are pretty sweet. So, bring on the parade and parties and you bring on the prosperity. (Jamie also encourages you to enjoy the parade and parties for their own sake, not just as means to an end. The audience took this suggestion well.)

This past spring, as Jamie worked to tap into what the Columbus community would want from a celebration of itself, he heard a young woman say “I want Columbus to be revealed.” Jamie loved this and he ran with it, embracing it as the guiding force for the Columbus celebrations.  What does it mean to be revealed? Blinding flashes of the obvious (Jamie’s words) only? Yes, but also more: Jamie asks Columbus to see this next year as a platform to do good works, to influence the possibilities of this community and power them further than ever before. Through fun slides of huge murals and outdoor installation art (take away: artists in Ohio really love cows, in rivers on walls on barns …) as well as discussions of more sobering revelations (Columbus has one of highest poverty rates across cities in the U.S.), Jamie encouraged us to see ‘revealing’ as both showing and doing.

Again in his words, what will you reveal?


2011 TEDxColumbus

“Stones skipping across the surface of a very complex issue.” These were Janet Parrot’s words about her documentary, a documentary covering palliative care in South Africa for individuals with HIV/AIDS. The film is about how the daily hard work of dedicated individuals fosters a system of community support and comprehensive care for ill parents and their children that is not – yet – mirrored by hospice care in our country.

Scenes from her film, which peppered this TED talk, were moments in time, a time when people are finding creative answers to problems, and a time when Janet discovered that teachers can be everywhere and that we need to pay attention. The hospice Janet documents is a hospice that’s working in and throughout the community to better the lives of patients and families.

Though South Africa is one of the wealthiest countries on the continent, it is also home to great inequalities, including one of the highest HIV rates in the world. Women working in the hospice system Janet documented worked specifically with children whose parents were afflicted with HIV or dying from AIDS. “If we can show these children that there is care, that there is love,” spoke one featured caregiver, “then we are not bringing up a lost generation.”

Indeed, the women and men of the hospice care system in the villages Janet visited focused on the message that ‘there is something good.’ In addition to helping with groceries and day care, they worked to offer the sons and daughters ways to cope with the deeply personal impact of HIV they were experiencing.

Upon viewing Janet’s film, a consulate general gave her a pin – a merging of the American flag and the South African flag – and said something that at first Janet didn’t understand. Upon translation, she was told “your movie shows humanity to others.” Closing her talk with Mandela’s statement that “I am what I am because of who we all are,” Janet encouraged the TED audience to pay attention to what can be seen in those brief moments where stones skip across the surface. “I had to document this trip. I had to document what I saw,” she said. We’re listening, and we’re watching.


2011 TEDxColumbus

Where we live now, where information is everywhere on bright screens and illuminated spaces and continuous 24-hour cycles of this just in and here’s where I’m at and here’s what I’m thinking, darkness, both as a trope and as an environmental circumstance, is diluted.  Even the bleakest circumstances, deep in a cave with a dimming headlamp and a backpack abandoned miles back, the iPhone can shine the way back to civilization … or, in this case, back to where your ten-year-old son and his friends and their parents are waiting for you to catch up. Such was Randy Nelson’s moment of dual discovery, shared as the opener to his talk about light and night and when, exactly, those two got so entangled. Before he remembered he had his iPhone tucked safely inside an interior pocket when he was underground in that cave, Randy spent time in the dark. In the real dark. The first darkness he’s ever felt incapable of changing through illumination.

I recently – finally – hung curtains in my bedroom, a room where the glorious beacon that is a Broad Street street lamp shown through thick and thin and darkness. I felt better. And that, Randy shows through experiments with mice and changing how much time they spend in the dark, made my glucose levels, my happy hormones, and my actual brain structure better.  Our circadian rhythms are being disrupted, which impedes our normal homeostasis-supporting body systems. Would Randy have been better without the iPhone and its light in that dark cave? Maybe not. Would we be better without them, would we be better left behind in the dark more? Yes.

Only in the last 130 years have we had artificial light. Billions of years passed where there was clear day and clear night (clearly delineated, I mean … weather can only be good for so long, a reality slowing sinking in to me this chilly early morning). How did the mice in the studies Randy reviewed get better? They were allowed to spend more time in the dark. Literally. That’s all it took. Two weeks of steady, regular nighttime dark. They lost weight, they were more active, and they were happier.

I’ve always liked the comment that goes “well, the light’s on but nobody’s home” (clarification: I like saying it, not necessarily having it said of me). Now I like it even more, and I want it applied to me. When the light’s are on at night, we shouldn’t feel ‘at home’ in them. We should buy those blackout curtains, abandon fashion sense and put on those sleep masks, and work to create a more energy efficient life. We’ll be happy. The next time I find myself in the dark, I’ll let it sink it and work its magic.


2011 TEDxColumbus

Mike Figliuolo is here to talk about how travel has inspired him. And it did: it inspired him to try to observe the little things that make up the human condition.

The story starts with Figliuolo sitting in a bar with a friend. The two started to notice all of the strange people that passed by, both dressed strangely and behaving strangely. This inspired him and that friend to start an app devoted to the weird things you can see at the airport.

In his travels, he’s come across people with poorly-thought-through haircuts and even more poorly thought-through dress choices (including ill-fitting leotards and bad Elvis costumes). You can check out some of his examples at

Freakjet is fun. There are plenty of laughs to be had. But what I like about Freakjet is that, for all of the weird-looking and weird-behaving people, they’re all just like us in the end, trying to live an inspired life. This is particularly evident in the photos of people wearing hats shaped like animals and weird costumes made out of caution tape. For all of their goofiness, they really are just looking for inspiration, just like all of us.

Check out for more of this strange brand of inspiration.


2011 TEDxColumbus


Welcome to TEDxColumbus! Today’s first speaker is Denny Griffith, who, appropriately enough, talked all about how he gets inspired. His talk will set the stage for a day that will hopefully give all of the attendees something to get inspired by.

But first: Denny Griffith. He’s an administrator by day but an artist by night. He’s a networker, talking with other administrators and personell during the day. But by night he explores his introverted and sensitive artist side.

The two might seem in conflict, but Griffith is here to tell us that, if you are driven by what inspires you, you can find the balance and sense of place you need.

Griffith gave some examples of people that have been able to channel those inspirations into divided but harmonized personas: a teacher who plays in a bluegrass band, or a tattooed surgeon. Then he talked about his own private persona, the artist. His talk was a journey through what inspires him and how he stays balanced.

The most surprising thing that Griffith says inspired him is leukemia. He lost his dad to the disease, and in that difficult time, that’s when he saw the beauty and the terror in some aspects of the natural world. He saw the beauty in leukemia.

The resulting paintings, inspired by terrible diseases and strange cells seen under a microscope, are, as he describes them, “joyful.” And he’s right: they’re filled with bright colors and loose shapes. Artists often are inspired by the sad or difficult things they experience, and Griffith has translated some of that into something more exuberant than a brooding existential approach might yield.

Griffith was next inspired by something more global, less personal, and decidedly larger: galaxies. He noticed that the shapes of galaxies and the shapes of microbes or diseases are similar. He saw these shapes and textures all over the natural world.

And finally, Griffith has harnessed his root abstract explorations of nature to try to explore current events and the people that they impact. He’s done paintings about the recent tornados, hurricanes, and tsunamis. They’re improvised, abstract meditations on the shapes of these events, often looping and loose shapes that are more celebratory of the complexness of the world than lamentations for the world’s sadness.

Inspiration, Griffith notes, is closely tied to what makes people happy. If you are inspired, you can find your happiness. And it’s interesting to see how these sad or tragic events can inspire what amount to pretty happy artistic explorations.

Finally, Griffith spoke about how Columbus inspires him. He says it’s a city that’s big enough that it has an impact on a large scale, but small enough that anyone can impact their community directly.

That’s a pretty good message to get us started. Because all of TEDxColumbus’s speakers are hoping to inspire and be inspired today. They all hope to expose something great and inspiring to this community and to let us use these inspirations to get the balance right in our lives between our interior selves and the exterior world in which we live.

Here’s to a day of inspiration!