Regina Saphier: Really Big Understanding with Larry Page

Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google Inc.) lost his voice due to a viral infection that attacks his thyroid. His left vocal cord paralyzed after he first got ill, and his right vocal cord was paralyzed in 2012. The vocal cords pass the thyroid so his voice loss is almost certainly related to his Hashimoto thyroiditis, but his doctors keep telling him, that the cause of his problem is unknown and there is no cure. (I might add, that in my opinion he got ill after contracting mononucleosis 14 years ago… mono is very common in the US among young people… the virus that causes it remains dormant in nerve tissue, causes the thyroid to slow down, due to inflammation, reduces energy, and can later in life cause severe health issues, including different types of cancers… but he did not mention that in his public statements… I don’t know if he knows how dangerous that type of virus is… especially in people with a particular genetic configuration…)

Ted 2014 Conference, Vancouver Convention Cent...

TED2014 Conference Venue (Photo: L. Lawreszuk)

Imagine if such a smart and rich person is unable to find help and sufficient information in one of the most developed countries, sitting on top of unimaginable amounts of google data: What happens to you and me when an illness disables us… especially in a less developed nation, with a terrible healthcare system and extreme stress day by day…? We are so fragile, even the strongest and healthiest among us can unexpectedly become ill and families suffer! It would definitely help all of us if our anonymous medical records were globally available to the medical community and citizen scientists to find the cause and the cure for our illnesses. Imagine your public data being analysed, compared, and imagine having a medical social network where one day your solution would pop up based on big data, global analysis and (as Richard Saul Wurman, founder of TED likes to say) “big understanding” …

I would definitely join this movement, if the tools were in place. If we all share, we all gain something that has never been seen before. Not only could this help you get healthy, but it could help you prevent illness. Imagine this on a global scale! From tragic events that happen to rich, famous and smart people come amazing changes. I hope he will find his solution for his medical issue and live a long, healthy, satisfied and productive life. I hope this story brings health to millions or even to billions of people globally. Here is his latest public appearance, at TED 2014 in Vancouver, BC, Canada a few days ago. I was fortunate enough to watch live:

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Saphier Regina: A TED a Coursera Virtuális Előszobája

Láttam egy frusztrált pasast, amint a TED-et kritizálta egy TEDx eseményen. Szegény eltévedt ember! Szerintem a Guardian cikk írója, Benjamin Bratton eleve túldimenzionálta a TED-et. “Megette” Chris Anderson világmegváltó PR maszlagát… és abban csalódott! Meglepő naivitás egy olyan embertől, aki komolykodó és önreklámozó TEDx előadásában felszínességgel vádolja a TED szervezőit és előadóit, ezáltal magát a közönséget is. Bár mostanában inkább Coursera kurzusokat nézek, és bár mindig is inkább az élő TED konferenciákat preferáltam a videókkal szemben, tehát nem foglalkozom napi szinten a TED kérdéskörével, azért elmondom mégis, hogy mit gondolok… mert megkérdeztek.

Véleményem szerint az, amit ő keres, “a világmegváltásra alkalmas mélyen-szántás” és “tettek”, mindez a TED-ben nincs meg, és nem is ez a valódi célja, bármit is mondjon Chris Anderson a TED jómódú közönségének és a pénzes cégeknek. A TED elsődleges célja önmaga sikeres fönntartása. Mindig is ez volt az elsődleges cél, már Richard Saul Wurman idejében is. Pusztán másodlagos célja az emberek ismeretekkel való ellátása, és szerencsére ebben is sikeres. A mély tudás terjesztése soha nem jelent meg a valódi céljaik között. Amikor én pl. önkéntesként TED előadásokat fordítottam, nekem sem volt olyan illúzióm, hogy mondjuk egy TED előadás a mobil eszközök egészségügyben való felhasználásáról gyökeresen és egycsapásra megváltoztatja majd a magyar egészségügyet. Viszont biztos voltam benne, hogy hozzáadok egy marék szükséges kavicsot a változás épülő ösvényeihez.

Benjamin jobban tenné, ha az egyetemén keresztül adna a világnak egy Coursera kurzust. 100 000 diáknak mondhatná el mély gondolatait, lehetőleg érdekesen és szintén globálisan, két-három hónap alatt. Aztán jöhet a következő TEDx előadás Benjamin-tól, melyben tömören elmondja nekünk, hogy milyen volt a Coursera kurzusa, milyenek voltak a diákok, mit tanult a folyamatból, hogyan változtak meg a közösségek, melyeknek tagjait online és heteken át elérhette… de Benjamin sajnos nem vetett fel semmi ilyesmit, ő csak fel és alá járkált a TEDx színpadon, kicsit magában dohogva, hogy “ejnye már, milyen felszínes ez a TED”. “Talán a gondolatokkal van baj?” Szerintem Benjamin TED értelmezésével van baj.

Aki ismeri Richard Saul Wurman alapítói szándékait, az tudja, hogy a TED eredetileg egy for profit konferencia volt, amit RSW saját kedvtelésére, de üzleti céllal hozott létre. Miután Chris Anderson később, pár millió dollárért megvette a TED jogait, hamarosan jött az IT buborék probléma (korábban összeomlott a for profit média cége, így nem hagyhatta, hogy a non-profit sík is bedőljön), és ki kellett valamit találnia, hogy a már non-profit TED projektet, mely a Sapling Alapítványé, hogyan tartsa fönn konferencia bevételekből (online és offline), illetve adományokból. El kellett adnia a sok ezer dolláros jegyeket és tagságot, illetve az online közvetítést. Ez például egy nagyon fontos narratív réteg, amit én átlátok, de Benjamin egyértelműen nem. Én soha nem vártam világmegváltást a TED-től. Ismeretterjesztést, lelkesítő, inspiráló gondolatokat, teljesítmény vagy cél ismertetést, illetve szórakoztatást vártam, és ebben elég jók még ma is, amikor a verseny hatalmas, ilyen téren is.

Ezt az írásomat tudom ajánlani… arról, hogy mi volt a véleményem (sokrétű tapasztalatokkal a hátam mögött) 2012 elején a TED-ről. Nekem a tartalom eredetiségével volt bajom, ami persze nem csak az ő hibájuk, hiszen az online tartalmak választéka hihetetlen mértékben bővül. Ezt pedig pár héttel később írtam, miután kellemesen elbeszélgettem a TED eredeti alapítójával. A legjobb, ha az ember megvizsgálja azt, amiről ír (beszél), és vagy közvetlenül ismeri azokat, akik létrehozták vagy létrehozzák, vagy minimum alaposan utánuk néz.

Hozzá kell tennem, hogy a Guardian cikk írója azt sem méri fel, hogy a TED fordítások, a TEDx kapcsolatépítések, a TED videó megosztások mekkora hatással vannak az emberekre és a társadalmakra, például konkrétan a TED rajongók kifejező képességére, önérvényesítésére, a motivációikra, vagy a választásaikra. A TED-től világmegváltást várni olyan, mintha valaki Salman Khan-on és a Khan Akadémián kérné számon pl. a világ írástudatlanságát. Salman eredetileg a saját unokahúgának készített tanulást támogató youtube videókat. Időközben mások is elkezdték nézni, majd létrejött egy globális közösség, mely Salman videóival oktat általános iskolásokat. Sőt, gyakran felnőttek hoznak be saját gyerekkori lemaradásokat a Khan Academy videóival, például a matematika területén. Különösen érdekes az értékelési szoftverük, mely az egyéni haladást iskolai csoportban is könnyedén lemenedzseli, saját tempót tesz lehetővé. Mind a TED-nek, mind a Khan Akadémiának, mind pedig a Coursera kurzusoknak megvan a maguk helye az online tudásmegosztási hierarchiában, vagy inkább mátrixban.

Érdekességek: A 2014-ben immár 30 éves TED konferenciát a kétezres évek elején átvállaló Chris Anderson Pakisztánban született, nyilván brit állampolgárként… majd az USA-ba költözött. Szülei még misszionáriusok voltak, ő már Oxfordban végzett ateista üzletember. A Coursera alapítói közül a harmadik generációs PhD Daphne Koller Izraelben, Andrew Ng Angliában született, de sokat időzött Hong Kong-ban és Szingapúrbanma mindketten Kaliforniában élnek, kutatnak és tanítanak. Salman Khan második generációs amerikai, szülei még Indiában és Bangladesben születtek, de ma ő is kaliforniai lakós, és korábban befektetési elemző volt. Ami közös bennük: képesek a világot nem amerikai szemmel is nézni, de mindeközben kiválóan elboldogulnak az amerikai intézményrendszerben és társadalomban, intelligensek, vannak ambícióik és gyakorlatias idealisták.

A TED eredeti alapítója, Richard Saul Wurman anyai ágon első, apai ágon második generációs amerikai (apja New Yorkban született, bevándorolt lengyel szivarkészítő fia, anyja Oroszországban született bevándorló, kóser hentes családból származik), és mindkét ágon Richard az első diplomás. Ma Newport-ban él, Rhode Island államban, az USA keleti partvidékén. Mivel a pontos származási hátterét sehol nem találtam meg online, írtam neki gyorsan a facebook-on, és ő azonnal válaszolt (mivel rendszeres kontaktusban vagyunk), úgyhogy abszolút első kézből származik az információ. Az ő esete azért érdekes, mert az első generációs diplomások általában meglehetősen szakbarbárok, őt azonban minden érdekli, és nagyon sok mindennel foglalkozott életében, az építészettől, az információ dizájnon át, a könyvkiadásig, és a konferencia alapításig. Unta a szokványos, formális konferenciákat, és akart egy másfajta konferenciát, ami az ő kolibri agyának is megfelel. Én az ilyen emberekre azt szoktam mondani, hogy “magához görbíti a teret”, nem szeret alkalmazkodni. Az ilyen erős egyéni gravitációval rendelkező emberek hozzák létre az új dolgokat a világban. Nem könnyű emberek, de számomra nagyon érdekesek. Miközben Richard még látta az édesanyja “idegen tekintetével” az USA-t, ő már vérbeli amerikai, ugyanakkor sokat utazik, és sok emberrel találkozik. Folyton tanulmányoz valamit, most éppen a városokat. Ma is korát meghazudtolóan aktív, pedig közel van a nyolcadik X-hez. Örülhetünk, hogy 30 évvel ezelőtt annyira unatkozott, hogy megszületett a TED konferencia. Richard idejében még minden spontán zajlott a színpadon, családias hangulatban, offline. Chris TED-je már begyakorolt, strukturált, és online.

Ez itt egy csodaszép adat vizualizáció, a TEDx eseményeket, előadásokat, témákat és gondolatokat, ezek komplex globális összefüggéseit mutatja be (Visualizing the TEDx idea network). Mi ez, ha nem a gondolatok hatásos terjedése…?

Szerintem manapság, az igazi változás alapját a Coursera teszi le, minden nap. Évekig azzal nyaggattam a TED vezetőit, hogy legyen a TED.com egy online egyetem… de egyik fülükön be, a másikon ki, még akkor is, ha manapság van olyan zárt konferencia szekció, hogy: “TED University”… de ez valójában nem egyetem. A Coursera azonban egyetemek összessége és még annál is több, ingyen! “Csak” egy online felsőoktatási szolgáltatási iteráció és egy komplex kísérlet. Elég jól haladnak, nemes célokkal, és ki tudja, hogy mi lesz a vége, és ki tudja felmérni a pontos hatásait… de komoly hatásuk van, az első percektől kezdve.

Azt minden értelmes és tájékozott ember tudja, hogy sem a TED, sem a Coursera nem nevezhető hatástalannak. Ha “csak” annyi történt, hogy emberek milliói látták Sir Ken Robinson előadásait világszerte, és rájöttek, hogy más is okkal utálja az ipari jellegű oktatási rendszert, és ha “csak” annyi történt, hogy Daphne Koller és Andrew Ng látta Salman Khan TED előadását, és létrehozták a Coursera-t, melynek egy csapásra több millió diákja van világszerte, akkor máris sikernek könyvelhető el a TED. Ugyanakkor az is tény, hogy ennél sokkal több történt és történik. Minden nap valami új!

Véleményem szerint valójában arról van szó, hogy olyan ember nyilvánított hamis alapokon nyugvó és öncélú kritikát TED ügyben egy TEDx során, aki nem is érti ezeket a felületeket, közösségeket, és folyamatokat. Éppen azt gyomlálná ki a TED-ből, ami a lényege, hogy sok tömören megfogalmazott gondolat és inspiráció jusson el emberek millióihoz, akik remélhetőleg a kíváncsiságuktól vezérelve majd a maguk egyéni módján elmélyednek a felvetésekben, online és a saját közösségeikben egyaránt. Aki ma meghallgat egy érdekes és ingyenes TED előadást mondjuk az informatika témakörében, az holnap felvehet egy releváns és ingyenes kurzust a Coursera rendszerén keresztül, és megismerheti a téma mélységeit, majd pedig szakemberként hatással lehet a közegére (online és offline egyaránt). Ugyanez igaz a táplálkozásra, a környezetvédelemre, a mentális egészségre, a közgazdaságtanra, a történelemre, a politikára, a költészetre, és még hosszan sorolhatnám a lehetőségeket.

Összefoglalvaa TED és a Khan Academy például a Coursera (és más minőségi MOOC programok) egyik színes és virtuális előszobája. A TED a megfelelő kontextusba helyezve kiválóan betölti a szerepét. Mivel a TED tartalmait főleg két újságíró válogatja össze (Chris és Bruno évente kétszer kb. 70 előadót hív meg), érdemes a TED konferenciákra úgy gondolni, hogy: adva van néhány szerkesztő, és ők töméntelen mennyiségű előadót állítanak színpadra, akik magazin terjedelemben, de “szájjal blogolnak” valamiről (ezt most ötlöttem ki, az érthetőség kedvéért), amivel évek vagy évtizedek óta foglalkoznak. Ezek tulajdonképpen “színpadi blog szkeccsek”… ha nagyon beleillenek a TED kurátorainak pseudo-világmegváltó narratívájába, akkor a gondolatok a TED.com-on át, megvágott videók formájában terjednek tovább. Hogy ezek közül mi az értékes vagy érdekes, azt a nézők ízlésére bízzák, hiszen a műfaj populáris és nem szakmai. A TED konferencia egy rendkívül sikeres networking esemény (ma már főleg filmsztároknak, illetve B kategóriás cégvezetőknek, a korábbi A kategóriával szemben), míg a TED.com egy amerikai székhelyű, de nemzetközi tartalmú videó magazin, egy média innováció a maga nemében. Ettől a konstellációtól és közösségtől világmegváltást várni egyenesen butaság. A Scientific American tudományos vagy a Wired technológiai magazinoktól sem várja senki, hogy megoldják az emberiség égető problémáit, és azt sem gondolhatja komolyan senki, hogy a PubMed.gov kutatási cikkeinek alaposságával és szakzsargonjával hozakodnak majd elő, de ettől még nagyon hatásosak, felkeltik az emberek érdeklődését a tudományok, a technológia és más izgalmas szakterületek iránt. Akiben ott van a fogékonyság a PubMed színvonal iránt, az majd beiratkozik egy Coursera kurzusra. Továbbá ne lepődjön meg senki, ha egy Coursera videóban és tananyagban TED előadás linket talál, mert vannak elképesztően jó TED videók, melyek kiválóan használhatóak egyetemi szinten, egy-egy problémakör megvilágítására.

Ha tetszik a cikkem, kérlek, hogy nyomj egy “like”-ot és oszd meg a cikk linkjét a Facebook-on, a LinkedIn-en vagy a Twitter-en! Köszönöm, hogy elolvastad és megosztottad.

Érdekel a téma? Egy másik tematikus blogomon részletesen bemutatom a Coursera-t, kivételesen magyarul: http://mycourserablog.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/digitalis-optimizmus-tanulj-ingyen-ivy-league-szinten

Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)

Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)

 

After Eric X. Li’s TED talk was published, My TED Blog views hit an all time high globally, especially in the US. In addition, a few days after the talk was published, Richard Saul Wurman (the creator of TED) was kind enough to repeatedly post my blog link on his facebook wall and I wrote some extra material in response to two comments by his friends. Here are my comment responses, edited for my blog (remember, these paragraphs below were written by me in response to two comments, so some parts might appear to be out of place, but I did not want to fragment the text by removing those bits):

My comment response #1.: In part I wrote my essay because I noticed the enthusiastically applauding TED audience after EXL’s talk live and I realized that probably not many there witnessed the collapse of a dictatorship from the inside (especially not the collapse of an enormous system of multiple dictatorships under a mega oppressor in the form of the USSR) and not many at TED Global experienced the painful, deep and long lasting social and economic scars such a pathologically delusional system leaves behind. (Even most of those people living in these former socialist and communist countries don’t realize the trauma, the massive PTSD, because of the lack of cultural comparison and due to lack of information.) Hungary (a former “Satellite State”) and the “Eastern Bloc” countries still, after twenty years struggle with those unresolved issues and those issues are not going to be over for a long time.

Of course you should question anything that comes out of China in the suspiciously eloquent form of a propaganda talk or in the form of a superhumanly optimistic survey analysis of growing wellbeing in a developing country. (More in my next comment below.)

My comment response #2.: Anyone can show enormous growth at that scale with really low cost of labor when not having any regard for nature and individual needs, when the only target is growth. However, it is not a sustainable rate of growth, not a sustainable way of development in China. Imagine the income inequality that characterizes less than 6 000 USD GNI per year per capita among over a billion citizens, especially if you consider that the US is criticized for the shocking income inequality in the 50 000 USD GNI per year per capita range among “only” a few hundred million citizens. Are you able to grasp the difference in terms of quality of life? The two systems are not to be compared. One is a developed and established economy, the other is a fragile developing country. Still, both can be criticized endlessly in their own leagues. China at this point is a huge bubble waiting to burst. Naturally: larger, more established and more sustainable economies can not grow at China’s rate. Plus: don’t forget the economic casualties in other countries, the lost jobs, the lost income, the lost social status, the poverty that was created (among other things) by the unfair competition at irrationally low labor costs in China and by the insane target of forever growing consumption globally. In addition, imagine what is going to happen to the Chinese labor force when AI technology makes them completely obsolete in the future. The World is one interdependent system and China’s government has no regard for that, while other countries are also only learning to understand what all this means. If you look at this complex image and if you have some insight and even the ability to maintain the outsider position, it is surreal how EXL was able to lead the attending, highly educated, intellectually and financially influential TED audience by their noses. On top of this EXL also believes what he says. To me he is just another believer in the wrong thing because it appears to work for him. He is a skilled conformist. In a way he is the “other” you should take to lunch to have a conversation about differences in world views. But can you have an open and real dialog with someone who does not believe in freedom for his own countryman?

My comment response #2 continued: Before 1989 I could not travel freely. It was really hard and complicated to get out of Hungary (I could only travel to the US in 1981 as a child with my parents because my father’s sister lived there and she invited us… and because the Hungarian authoritarian regime, on the western edge of the “Eastern Bloc” started to slowly fall apart and a few years later it disintegrated completely, along with the rest of the sick system). After 1989 I was able to attend French school in Villefrance-sur-Mer for example in the nineties, on the hill, right behind you on your facebook profile picture (I recognized the view immediately when I looked at your profile). Later, when I did not have to use a passport on the border traveling from Hungary to Austria… well, I will never forget this new feeling of being a citizen of the EU. Since joining the EU in 2004, Hungary is going downhill economically, but this is not caused by the EU membership. It is caused by the “post-system change syndrome” or “PSCS” as I call it (before and after 1989: people faced very different expectations, but the people on the cellular level and so their attitudes remained the same). Leaders of old EU member states don’t recognize the need to help nations with this national PTSD. If you think about it, an individual with PTSD needs help and can not be forced to perform like people without PTSD. An individual with PTSD is also highly likely to pass on genetic susceptibility to PTSD to the fetus, this is scientific fact since 9/11. Imagine that on a national scale after decades of trauma! This in my humble opinion is a huge problem. Decades of social, psychological and so physiological and in turn biological trauma revealing itself today, and preventing adequate present day adaptation and development on a national scale. Hungarians were part of a closed and planned, surreal “1984” kind of system until 1989. Even most of their children don’t possess the appropriate skills today to navigate the high waves of an open market in the middle of a global economic crisis and during an era of transition in so many arenas of an increasingly globalized, online and mobile life.

When the Hungarian government now turns east, it is because the turning west did not work out for the political “elite” here. It is due to lack of appropriate communications and understanding between the western and the eastern elites, but not the way EXL wants you to believe. Just look at citizens in Germany, so close to each other (not apart like the US and China). People in the eastern part are very different from the people in western Germany. Decades of epigenetic changes due to a long era of suffering, fear, stress, anxiety and lack of resources and lack of freedom don’t disappear from one day to the other. At least two generations have to go before people in Germany start to look similar and indistinguishable again. I am not saying that people in the US and in China must be similar, diversity is important, but in fact many people in China are more and more americanized already and perhaps this is not what those people need.

When I look at my blog statistics, I see the map of the world… I see readers from everywhere. Views of My TED Blog went up by +9,012.50% last week after people watched Li’s talks and read my critical post. Still, there were no readers from China (for obvious reasons). I want that to change.

Dictatorships not only brainwash and isolate people, they also distort people on the cellular level for generations. That is a crime against humanity. Outsiders and even privileged insiders usually “somehow” fail to see that. Change makers in these countries are mostly regarded as strange and are powerfully hindered by the conformist masses and by the rotten status quo even after the dictators are long gone. Anyone who understands this should advocate for appropriate social and political change in China, but not necessarily for the kind that was made in America.

And if you would like to understand how Americans were brainwashed into consumerism during the last century (and at the same time into paradoxical impulse suppression) watch the fantastic BBC documentary: “The Century of the Self“. I wrote about this brilliant documentary in 2009 (in Hungarian, on my first blog). This kind of PR based consumer brainwashing is already happening in China. It also happened in Hungary and it did a lot of harm.

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Regina Saphier: TEDMED or Your Gut Feeling and Big Data

Regina Saphier: TEDMED or Your Gut Feeling and Big Data

It is time I posted something about TEDMED, even if (unfortunately) I have no access to live TEDMED events. I however still watch those post production videos on TEDMED and I sometimes post them on my facebook wall with my comments. So, here are two of those posts, their slightly edited and extended blog versions, with added articles for deeper knowledge of the topic at the end of my blog post.

As a young doctor Peter Attia blamed an obese woman with diabetes for her terrible condition (while giving her the best possible medical care he was able to provide). Later he who is knowledgeable, fit and eats right, learned that he too was insulin resistant. In fact there are millions of lean people who are insulin resistant, while also millions who are obese but have no trace of insulin resistance. Peter says that he is very sorry that he let his patient down as a human being and one can see that he is truly ashamed of his mistake. Right now Peter is exploring the possibility that obesity is perhaps not the cause of insulin resistance but rather the result of an underlying, yet undiscovered mechanism that is behind the complex metabolic syndrome that is related to diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity.

I am glad someone finally noticed that. A healthy body does not get fat. A healthy person does not want to sit on the couch all day. If you feel like sitting all the time, and if your diet is healthy and you are still packing it on, something happened to you that should be fixed. The same is true if you are thin, have a slow thyroid, still, no matter how much you eat, you can not put on weight. I suspect one direction to explore is how our microbiome is related to these issues. I am sure that people with metabolic syndrome have a similarly screwed up gut flora, or some other consistent disharmony in their microbiome. Peter could work well with Larry Smarr‘s big data approach.

My kind of hero: Larry Smarr used big data (he compared his medical data to many other people’s medical information, like their lab results and the composition of their gut flora), a supercomputer, genetics, and science to precisely diagnose the dramatic changes in his microbiome that are making him ill. He now knows that his CRP (a marker for inflammation) is high because of a slowly developing intestinal illness (not yet visible with a colonoscopy!), due to a mass extinction of good bacteria and an overgrowth of harmful components. Quantified self at its best, but medicine is not there yet. His out of balance microbiome composition is consistent with one particular illness that shows the same imbalance in other similarly ill people. So, now he knows what is wrong, he also knows that this is a key to the future of medicine, but the knowledge and the methods to treat his illness based on his scientific and extremely precise diagnosis are not in place yet… But I am telling you to watch this field! And watch this video to look into the future of medicine. Below I am also providing relevant articles and citations for further reading.

Update (December 21, 2013):

A very important talk by Jessica Richman of uBiome @ TEDMED 2013  (Thank you Jessica for sending me the link during our AngelList discussion!)

Could a citizen scientist win a Nobel Prize?

“Scott McCollum asks:

What are your thoughts on the gut microbiome and obesity? Where’s the current research at and where is it headed?

Attia responds:

The current body of evidence certainly suggests that the gut biome plays a role not only in obesity, but more importantly insulin resistance and metabolic dysregulation. Perhaps one of the most amazing clinical observations is the amelioration of diabetes in patients undergoing gastric bypass prior to losing any weight post surgery. This at least suggests that the weight loss per se is not the issue in type two diabetes. Rather, something in the gastric bypass may be altering flora in the gut, which may in fact be altering the underlying insulin resistance. The most interesting question form my vantage point is this: Can the benefit of gastric bypass on the insulin resistant patient be achieved through a dietary intervention that also interrupts the gut biome? Stay tuned.”

“We’ve known for a few years that obese mice transplanted with the intestinal community of lean mice lose weight and vice versa. (We don’t know why.) A similar experiment was performed recently on humans by researchers in the Netherlands: when the contents of a lean donor’s microbiota were transferred to the guts of male patients with metabolic syndrome, the researchers found striking improvements in the recipients’ sensitivity to insulin, an important marker for metabolic health. Somehow, the gut microbes were influencing the patients’ metabolisms.” (By MICHAEL POLLAN, Published: May 15, 2013)

Regina Saphier: The United States of China

Regina Saphier: The United States of China

I had my personal opinion, but I did not know that I had anything to say about China until I got an e-mail from Eric X. Li thanking me for my thoughtful writeup of his talk at TED Global 2013. That was the second when I realized that I need to say more, because my quick summary projected the impression that I agree with him. Well, mostly I don’t. I am able to see that he is a talented individual and I think it is true that new leadership models need to be introduced in the world, but I strongly disagree when it comes to the Chinese leadership model, as the right solution for China. Below I explain why. Hereby I present my critical, comparative essay in response to Eric X. Li‘s TED Global 2013 talk (talk published on July 1, 2013). He is an investor from Shanghai and a political scientist, also the Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

Going from communism to capitalism, from groups to individualism… to understand the rotten political narratives of societies we need people like Eric with personal historic and political perspective and analytical insight. According to Eric democracy was also sold to nations as was communism, but China did not buy it this time (not that it is in any way perfect, he added)… China did not go from communism to capitalism, rather created a hybrid system that works in many ways for them and meta narratives are the Cancer that are killing democracies around the world, Eric told us. In his opinion this global meta narrative is boring, that all nations should become democratic. In my opinion witnessing a dictatorship redressing itself is what is boring. It is also just plain sad to see a western educated young man tell the world to promote pluralism and at the same time promoting the tragic fact that pluralism is forbidden in China. Eric! Face it: there is nothing exceptional about Hungarians, nothing exceptional about Americans, and nothing exceptional about Chines people. We are all from Earth. We were all born on Earth. Your economy has powerful spillover effects, for example Hungary’s textile industry is dead. Your pollution is all over the planet. I have seen people like you being enthusiastic about a dictatorship and 40 years later those people try to make people forget what they did, what they supported, what they were saying. 40 years from now your split narrative will be all over the web. Your old self might one day regret the words you repeated again and again today.

Let me add: It is interesting if you compare this with the narrative of a journalist, that Hungary is the Cancer in the EU… Perhaps the EU uses the wrong narrative? Some people in the EU do that, definitely. Also, never generalize. Hungary is full of people who do not agree with the state of things in Hungary and never voted for this government. If the EU can not push the government out of office, with all that international political and economic power, how do you expect the exhausted, severely traumatized citizens of Hungary to do the same? Let plurality of governing styles change the global, social, economic and political narratives. BUT:

In my humble opinion, China’s present leadership is not sustainable as it is in the long run. I come from a thankfully collapsed similar regime (meaning I grew up in Hungary) that attempted to make its citizens “happy” (politically speaking: making sure those people didn’t complain and accepted the state of things… for many people pretending was survival, and many others did not even know that there was anything else, that there were other choices). Among other things that system resulted in the collapse and in huge debt. What I however also see is that Hungary’s right wing nationalist government is now looking at China as a role model… and at Russia… Autocratic government… with 2/3 of the parliament and no inhibitions: happily draining EU money for their string pulling mini oligarchs (the local kleptocracy). Terribly worrisome. At the same time the so called old democracies are unable to handle this new EU member state called Hungary, and those “old” democracies (EU and US equally) are also struggling with huge problems of their own (like joblessness, and technology making more and more people jobless). Meanwhile African nations are more and more looking at China (a capitalist dictatorship where slavery-like conditions are still the norm) instead of the US (a federal presidential constitutional republic, a representative democracy)… Clearly the US has much more GDP per capita and much more per capita income, but China is growing fast economically, while suppressing individual interests in China and building infrastructure in Africa. And the average person in China and in Africa is more interested in having a road, as opposed to having a vote… and having both appears to be an unattainable dream to them.

Corruption Perceptions Index

Corruption Perceptions Index

What is bizarre is that China is regarded as the key economy in the world today, but when you look at the numbers, the US is a developed nation with a strong GDP and GNI per capita per year (despite their democracy), similar to Sweden. Their GNI per capita is around 50,000 USD (note: there is income inequality so remember, this is only an average number, many earn much less, and some earn much more). China on the other hand is only a developing country still below the 6,000 USD per capita income per year level (above which a country is able to sustain democracy indefinitely, according to Dambisa Moyo‘s TED Global 2013 talk… another PR talk supporting China’s activities in Africa… interestingly she did not take any questions after her talk…). And Hungary is above the 12,000 USD margin so it is regarded as a developed country, but come on… democracy in Hungary is fading already (so perhaps Hungary’s budget and statistics are also questionable)… and Greece had twice that per capita income (over 24,000 USD) and it was just removed from the list of developed countries (the birth place of democracy with an imaginary budget)… Nothing that appears to be true based on old school economics is really true.  This is where we agree with Eric: New thinking is required.

However, keeping an open mind about how nations govern themselves does not mean that I would accept Orbán’s attempt to return to the rotten communist populism that Orbán himself (supposedly) hated and publicly protested against as a young democrat and that era was represented by Kádár, the authoritarian “happy-maker” of Hungary before 1989. When the so called “system change” happened, I was a teenager and the first thing I did, I went to Austria to learn German. The twenty something years that passed since were really traumatic on many levels and I don’t want to go backwards in time. At the same time the present situation in Hungary is not a sustainable one. Not politically, not economically and not in social terms. Low pay, high cost of living, enormous bureaucracy, political impotence and arrogance, manipulated state media (not as bad as in China… yet…), corruption, stagnating economy, plus mostly exhausted citizens. The open minded, constructive and independently thinking elite and the middle class is missing…

Meanwhile in Denmark: very low corruption, very high income, high levels of education and health care, low CO2 emission, long and increasing life expectancy. “The Kingdom of Denmark is a unitary constitutional monarchy, organized in a parliamentary democracy.” So, if Eric X. Li is telling us that the western world should look for some other ways instead of the way of democracy, I am asking EXL to consider this: China should urgently look for a way that permits plurality in a huge country with lots of regional diversity instead of the forced centralized dictatorship. Because perhaps there are hidden possibilities for Denmark-like regions in China, but right now you are forcing them too to look like Hungary… Just think about that… I suggest you adopt your own suggestions for your own country before you go out and tell the world how to progress. I suggest when you soon reach the 6,000 USD GNI per capita per year goal (above which China could indefinitely maintain democracy and democracies) you name your country “The United States of China” after turning all the autonomous regions and provinces into independent countries. (If that does not happen soon, some people definitely are artificially holding onto a questionable amount of power…)  Of course with all that growth and development in China, you will be able to be creative and invent the most marvelous technologically supported democracy where everything works like a dream. Right? Well, that is when I will look at China and say: the Chinese system might become the most superior one. How about that? When that happens and you become known as the investor from the USC, people of The West might be more likely to listen to your narrative. But as of today you come from China the land of modern day slavery and oppression (don’t you try to tell me that your polls are reflective of the truth, I know what dictatorships are doing to look good). Look forward, instead of looking backward.

Note: I just discovered thanks to WordPress’s “Recommended Links” that indeed I am not the first one to suggest a United States of China. Very interesting to immediately know that my idea is valid. And perhaps now is the time for the USC to be created. If China’s leaders are as effective as you say, we could celebrate a USC by 2020.

James O’Toole: Leading Change

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Finally, let me quote James O’Toole from a book that I read over ten years ago while studying among other things the subject of Leadership at Columbia University in New York. (O’Toole: Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom, p. 10-12): “Clearly, the leadership of change does not depend on circumstances: it depends on the attitudes, values, and actions of leaders.” … “To be effective, leaders must change their attitude about followers forever and under all conditions. Moral leadership, by definition, can not be situational or contingent. The reason is simple: if ever leaders revert to paternalistic behavior…, in doing so they will break trust with followers.” From 1994-1997 James O’Toole was Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute, where you Eric X. Li are the Henry Crown Fellow.

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Written by Regina Saphier, June 18, 2013 (mytedblog.wordpress.com)

This entry was updated on June 20, 2013

New GNI data for 2012 added on July 10, 2013.

Additional data reported in the Hungarian media on July 09, 2013: The World Bank GNIPC in 2012 for Hungary is 12,390 USD. Most of the regional economies are doing significantly better, while Hungary is obviously going down. Here are the numbers between 2008 and 2011: 12,890 USD, 12,980 USD, 12,860 USD,12,730 USD. Here is what I wrote about this in January of 2013 on My Coursera Blog: “I am not pretending to know enough about developing countries, but in a way I feel that even though Hungary is regarded as a developed country, we have many issues that are similar to developing nations. In fact I strongly believe that statistics are powerfully distorted, because living standards are very different within Hungary, and it still feels like a developing nation.” Before we joined the EU Hungary was forced into pretending that it fits the EU. Well, even before I graduated from Columbia, I warned that Hungary is not ready for the EU, and that even EU officials are willfully blind to this fact. However, nobody was listening to a graduate student, obviously…

Eric X. Li’s TED Global 2013 talk was published on July 1, 2013

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The Smithsonian National Design “Lifetime Achievement” Award goes to Richard Saul Wurman

Yesterday I got a few notes from Richard Saul Wurman. He made sure I know he got an award that made him really pleased.

Here is my edited letter to him (edited for the public eye):

Congratulations Richard upon your well deserved award! 🙂 “Lifetime Achievement” goes to Richard Saul Wurman. “Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt‘s National Design Awards“… Brilliant! Here is why You deserve it in my opinion:

 

I am sure you see that when You, Mr. Q Senior, started TED, you started many many possibilities for thousands of people on a global scale, unrelated to their immediate circumstances. You basically redesigned the invisible space between you, me, and people in other nations and on other continents. This is why you deserve every relevant award out there. It is all possible because you had a curious mind, an amazing breadth of view, and a special motivation for redesigning everything that you touch, in a way that it “becomes round” and “starts rolling” (e. g.: ready to roll when posted on the web). Thank you for existing and remaining curious! 🙂 Your embraced ignorance is a universal blessing, and we positively experience the function of your ego the size of The Large Hadron Collider. 🙂 We are happy particles spinning in it, and the energy is shaking up The World. Congratulations! Your “intelligent human design”, your hummingbird mind and your enormous network is the dynamic canvas of a global knowledge revolution.

Thank you for reinforcing your invitation to see your circles in person.

Ms. Q

Is TED in a content crisis?

For me, for a dyslexic, interested in online education, and not being a native English speaker, it is a nice challenge to live blog each event in English. In fact, after so many events, it is not even a challenge anymore…

My name is Regina Saphier, I am a senior TED blogger and TED talk translator living in Hungary (my native country). A few things about me: I lived in several countries, I graduated from Teachers College of Columbia University and I am dyslexic (as I like to say and shock people: I am unable to read, write and calculate properly, but still graduated from Columbia… imagine what I could do if I could read, write and calculate… if in doubt after my self deprecating line: I write my own blogs and I have no editor… I also write my own translations… and no, I do not have an IT manager, nor do I have a social media editor… I do all this alone as an online one woman show). When there is a major TED event, I am there for every minute online, because I prefer 2×4 TED days per year filled with 2×70 live talks instead of one post production talk every second day (besides not all TED conference talks get published).

I was surprised by my new feeling after the days of TED Long Beach 2012 passed. I mean I really enjoy 4 days of interesting ideas, but I noticed that there was no aha moment for me… no feeling of: this is the only place where I could hear, see, feel this. There was even the feeling that some sessions were awkward, like the dinner party… interesting and less interesting people sitting around a dinner ready table on stage, with nothing to eat. The first presentation was painful to watch in this session, and by a really smart person, Steven Pinker and his partner. It was rigid, rehearsed, unnatural, and very disappointing. If it ever makes it onto the TED site (only the best TED talks make it there), it is because it will be edited beyond recognition, with animations to hide the weakness of the talk (I love RSA animation, but in this case, animation can only be used to save the ideas in the talk). Also, I did not feel the necessity of the real bull on stage in a happy go lucky “interactive” presentation and was hoping for a real antique tapestry on the TED stage when the MET and exhibitions were narrated… no demo there. There were other problems, but in general the event was still enjoyable and interesting. However, after having seen 7 major TED events online (so, several hundred live TED talks, beyond the several hundred recorded TED videos), this was the first time that I had the feeling, the event was not outstanding.

I have the feeling that Chris and his TED team are getting a bit nervous about the competition on a market where they make millions of dollars with the TED conferences, and they are trying to reinvent the content, yet unsuccessfully. By the way, neither the free online videos, nor the live stream was Chris’s idea, in fact he was initially opposed to giving their content away for free (the stream is only free for diligent TED translators). I would like to thank the unknown person who suggested the free stream, and I think it was smart of Chris to support the idea in the end.

(Did you know that after Chris persuaded a group of investors to purchase the TED brand from Wurman for 14 million dollars, later, after the dot com collapse, he negotiated an exit deal with the group and his Sapling Foundation paid only 6 million dollars for the TED brand, in a second hand kind of deal. I am sure, he is not so worried about money… or is he? Ten years ago he has seen his first empire collapsing… that must have been traumatizing.)

I am actually so glad not having to mingle with the tech snobs in those conferences (no matter what you hear from others, I am an introvert and mingling is hard work for me, even if public speaking is something I enjoyed in the past), and it is really comfortable to view the live talks from my living room (I know, there is stream buffering, and I know that people in the theater see it a bit sooner, but that is ok). Now, I should not say all this online, not even as a senior TED talk translator and senior TED conference blogger, because even million dollar donors and even the inventor of the TED idea and brand, Mr. Wurman got uninvited from the TED conference (what a shame, but not unusual for Chris’s TED era), so you can easily get punished at TED when you speak your mind. I know, believe me, I got the silent treatment after I expressed my valid opinion regarding the management of volunteers… I got invited to and uninvited from TED Global in 2010 within a week and it was really not my fault… I am sure non of you would ask your conference guest’s sponsor to send a check to a complete stranger, another TED conference guest (another TED volunteer) living in the US, so that she could wire the money (my sponsor’s money and her own) together to TED in New York… dilettantism of a TED employee to ask something like that and think that she is being helpful. In turn the TED employee acted all hurt when I responded with a clear no and poinTED out that her conduct is unprofessional (I should know, because I have my NGO founder and director experience)… This mistake was never fixed by the TED team… First I was really angry, but later got over it thinking, I really don’t need snobs and ignorance in one package, even if it were offered at a volunteer discount and covered with TED’s world famous intellectual lobster sauce… an idea worth spreading… By the way, that particular telecommuting and flextime dilettante was paid 76 680 USD in 2010, and she is the fifth highest paid independent contractor of the Sapling Foundation. Picture that! Chris and his employees find it hard to deal with valid opinion… and he really only pretends to be egalitarian, extremely nice, or flexible. He is really elitist, selective, and (passive) aggressive… but if you did not spend a lot of time watching him, you would not immediately notice that the humble, kind facade hides a really insecure, driven, and snobbish human, who drinks a lot at TED parties. He is really intelligent in his own way, but he will never in his life be as original, as laid back, and as playful as Wurman is. Chris is the type who is primarily and largely using other people’s ideas to become successful (this is an important talent, indeed, you know, because humans use each others ideas, some more, some less, but we all do), but unfortunately uninvites them from their own invention. This is a sad thing, because Wurman might have been able to help reinvent TED again.

Wurman is the kind of man who says, f’ck you Chris, if you can not deal with my opinion and even publicly reject me as a person, I will create new conferences for my own entertainment and share it with anyone who pays for global simulcast events or for the related smart phone app. And he will! However, most people won’t receive Wurman’s conference content, he will create something super elitist again. Who will pay? The elite, the middle class, and the rest of the world won’t get anything. Chris is about structure within structure, available to anyone (the TED brand contains the restricted format talks that are shared), Wurman is about structure filled with elite improvisation (here is the brand, lets see what happens within, and you can also find out if you have the money).

Meanwhile, the world is getting more and more interested in new ideas, inspiration, role models, but even interactive conferences won’t solve the problems out there. People need to be more involved and global platforms for real life solutions are needed to utilize inspiration and interconnectedness. Chris thinks he wants to change the world (and earn a lot of money). Wurman wants to have intellectual fun (and earn a lot of money).

English: Chris Anderson and Richard Wurman get...

Image via Wikipedia

While the brilliant boys are out fighting, I am thinking about the talks, the top speakers, the ideas, the connection of ideas, the technology that made this possible, and the people who made this technology possible, the diligent and enthusiastic volunteers, the sponsors, the donors, and it is clear, what Richard and Chris are doing for people is wonderful. Let’s hope their egos don’t get in the way. It would be useful if the speakers would also make available their key research articles via TED, for those who wish to go further (like me) but are typically not at US universities right now (many are, but most aren’t) where they are able to read any article for free. Let’s reinvent the TED slogan: inspiring and applicable ideas in depth worth spreading.

Also, we need global action community initiatives where people would be able to act upon their inspiration in cooperation with others. Basic written TED conversations on the TED site are limited and pointless in the long run. Talk talk talk… write, write, write… that alone is not going to take us much further. Actions will. I think supporting The City 2.0 is a good start, but why is it impossible to register on it for a week? How is it possible that a pro NGO with so many technology professionals in its network is unable to introduce a social media integrated partner website that actually works by the time it is exposed to the world? Having written dozens of suggestions to the TED team over the years… and not getting any results… well, for an enthusiastic and communicative volunteer there comes a point when she starts looking for more open minded organizations to support… I feel like I have done enough volunteering (especially for rigid and unresponsive multi million dollar foundations), no matter how useful my translations are for my own nation… and lets face it, my nation is not doing much for me (nothing really). The speakers are rewarded with extra PR, so I should not worry about them. I am looking forward to Wurman’s new conferences… But wait… at TED I am given free live conference stream for my several dozen TED translations… but who will translate the 50 minute Wurman conference discussions? TED has over 8000 enthusiastic open translation project volunteers… And that has to do with the fact that Wurman invented TED and Anderson made TED accessible. This is how most people will remember them 100 years from now.