Tag Archives: TED Fellows

How Mohammed Dalwai’s mobile triage app could save lives around the world

Mohammed Dalwai shares his idea for a Mobile Triage App at TEDGlobal 2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Mohammed Dalwai shares his idea for a Mobile Triage App at TEDGlobal 2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Every day, emergency room workers use triage to prioritize patient care — but exhausted personnel in under-resourced hospitals can easily make deadly errors in diagnostic tests and symptom scoring. South African emergency room doctor Mohammed Dalwai witnessed such avoidable tragedy firsthand while working with Médicins sans Frontières in Pakistan. He resolved never to let it happen again.

Dalwai urged MSF to apply a standard triaging system — the paper-based South African Triage Scale —  in his emergency room in Pakistan. This led to an 86% improvement in successful triaging, and to MSF adopting this standard in emergency rooms around the world. It also led to a big idea for Dalwai. Now, with The Open Medicine Project (TOMPSA), he and his team have made an app that is freely available. They are planning to roll it out across many regions.

Here, Dalwai tells the TED Blog about the app’s development, and its possible future uses — including the ability to track realtime data of disease outbreak.

How did you end up joining Médicins sans Frontières and creating the Mobile Triage App?

I actually always wanted to be a biomechanical engineer! But then I started studying medicine, and fell in love with it after the third year, when I began seeing patients. That was it for me. I finished med school at Stellenbosch University, and afterwards went into rural medicine. I went into the bush to work at Manguzi Hospital, on the border of Mozambique and South Africa.

There, I met an MSF doctor, who told me about the organization. The idea of going into low-resource settings and helping to make an impact in the system appealed to me, and I wanted to experience medicine outside of South Africa. So I went on multiple missions with MSF — to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Haiti and Sierra Leone.

It was in Pakistan in 2011, on my first assignment, that I saw patients dying due to incorrect triaging. One day, I lost a patient. A young woman, 22 years old, came in with abdominal pain. She was incorrectly triaged, and she waited for eight hours. She had something called an ectopic pregnancy — a pregnancy outside the uterus — and she was bleeding internally. When I found her, she was barely alive, and we tried everything to resuscitate her. But she died — and it really affected me. She was a woman, she was sidelined, she was put in a corner — no one cared, no one did the triage properly. If she’d been triaged correctly, we would have realized she was pregnant, and we would have prioritized her.

From that day on, I became determined to sort out the triage problem. I was part of a team that implemented the South African Triage Scale in my emergency room, and it was the first time it had been used in an MSF hospital. It was the first time the South African Triage Scale was ever implemented in Southeast Asia.

Villagers from Hhohho, Swaziland, wait outside to get their vitals taken before seeing a physician or dentist. Photo: Air Force Staff Sgt. Lesley Waters

Villagers from Hhohho, Swaziland, wait outside to get their vitals taken before seeing a physician or dentist. Photo: Air Force Staff Sgt. Lesley Waters

What is the South African Triage Scale?

It’s a paper-based system based on a composite score — including complaints and vital signs — and one of the only triage scales made for the developing world to evaluate both adults and children. It was developed in a small but busy hospital in Cape Town in a low socio-economic area in response to massive patient loads, understaffing and high death rates. It was introduced in 2008, and shown to be effective when implemented.

MSF had never had a standard triage system in place before this. We lobbied hard for change and standardization. They let us try it, and we did a study that showed a successful implementation. It was at that point that MSF realized how valuable it was, and they started implementing it in every emergency center around the world.

But this is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. The South African Triage Scale (SATS), being relatively new, has been tested extensively in South Africa, but not yet rigorously tested outside of the country. I’m now working on my PhD, documenting the SATS’s validity and reliability in other sectors and countries. For the last two years, I’ve been collecting data on the SATS and how it’s been implemented globally. We proved that it works in Pakistan, and we proved that it works in certain African countries. But Afghanistan and Haiti are different. What are those differences, and how can we adapt the system for local circumstances? In Sierra Leone, for instance, there was a massive malaria population, which has lower hemoglobin levels. Because of that, the triage scale wouldn’t pick up certain patients, so we would have to adjust one or two discriminators after research so that the triage scale is more sensitive for these people. Small things like that make a massive difference in patient care.

A look at TOMPSA’s Mobile Triage App. Photo: Makkia da Costa

A look at TOMPSA’s Mobile Triage App. Photo: Makkia da Costa

Why create a mobile app, when it sounds like the paper-based system works very well to correct the possibility of human error?

Even though the SATS works, it still needs to be implemented correctly across a variety of situations, so we need to standardize the format to further avoid human error. Health care workers are trained to various degrees across different countries. One of the easiest ways to standardize things is through technology. When I came home from Pakistan, I discussed my experiences with my friend Yaseen Khan. Together we decided we had to tackle health system problems using technology — and that’s how we formed The Open Medicine Project (TOMPSA).

When you look at the way the nurses or health care workers make mistakes, it’s usually one of two areas: it’s either they don’t understand the discriminator — so the first symptom that the patient comes in with. The paper-based version of the SATS offers no additional information, whereas a mobile app can. They also make mistakes in calculation. In the SATS, the vital signs are all linked to a composite score, and each one is different. So say, for example, you have a heart rate of 98 beats per minute, that’s zero point. If you have a heart rate of 101, that’s one point. It’s easy to make mistakes, and a massive number of errors are happening in that scoring system alone. So digitizing systems offers more information as prompts for medical care depending on the score. Nurses were forgetting to do pregnancy tests, for example.

The app is essentially a digital checklist. Checklists make massive differences in both the airline aviation industry as well as in medicine. You see the same thing with the WHO surgical checklist. It saves lives.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

Pimp my … trash cart? Watch Mundano’s TEDGlobal 2014 talk

Graffiti artist and TED Fellow Mundano describes his project “Pimp My Carroça,” in which he transforms the trash carts of Brazil’s rubbish pickers into works of art – while providing them with essential services and public recognition. Watch this talk, then read about how Mundano made a statement with election-waste art on the eve of this talk at TEDGlobal 2014!

 

 

Eye phone: How a TED Fellow’s new app could help restore sight to millions

Andrew Bastawrous shares the idea behind Peek at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Andrew Bastawrous shares the idea behind Peek at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Around 39 million people in the world are affected by blindness — 80% of which could be avoided if people had timely access to diagnosis and proper treatment. The problem is that in many developing countries, most eye care providers are in cities, while the majority of patients live in hard-to-reach rural areas. To bridge this gap, London-based opthalmologist Andrew Bastawrous created Peek — an app and adapter that turn a smartphone into a comprehensive, easy-to-use, accurate eye-exam tool. Peek makes eye tests affordable and easy to administer, bypassing the need for expensive, fragile equipment. (Watch his TED Talk, “Get your next eye exam on a smartphone.”)

Bastawrous developed and extensively road-tested Peek during a research expedition in Kenya, and has now launched an Indiegogo campaign to set up manufacturing process for the Peek Retina adapter, which allows health workers to peer into the eye and capture images for diagnosis. If successful, Peek will soon be rolled out worldwide with the help of eye NGOs. Here, he tells the TED Blog how his own childhood experiences with poverty, inequality and impaired vision led him to devote his life to restoring sight to the world.

How long has Peek been in development?

I’ve been working on it for around three years, and the team came together about two years ago. We’re now at the point where we’ve got a proven, tested prototype, and we want to make it available. We’ve had so much demand — over 4,000 eye organizations in 180 countries are asking to use it, and we want to make it available and keep the cost low. We evaluated options, and recently won the TED Mazda Rebels award. We’ve used the majority of that to fund set-up of the manufacturing pipeline to develop the adapter, and that takes us to about the halfway point.

You grew up in England. What made you want to practice in developing countries?

I was born in York, but my parents are both from Egypt, and I grew up between cultures. We spent most of our holidays in Egypt, and I always felt a little like I didn’t know where home was. When I visited Egypt, I witnessed things I didn’t see in the UK. My father’s a doctor, and he’d always visit the village where he grew up whenever we went back. He would be inundated with requests for medical attention.

It really inspired me, the way he never said no to anyone. Once a woman complained to him that she couldn’t have a child. My father, who is actually a bone doctor, did some general blood tests, and said, “Look, as far as I can see, everything’s okay.” When we went back the following year, she had a child with her — and everyone else in the region who couldn’t have babies started coming to see my dad to get it sorted out.

So I think seeing such things left me with a very deep sense of inequality. I also realized I’d had a very privileged upbringing. Within Egypt, my relatives are quite well off. But my grandma lived on the first floor, and the family that lived on the basement floor were effectively working for the apartment block. There was a kid there the same age as me, and every year we’d diverge more in terms of our opportunities. When we first met, we both just wanted to play football, but by the time we were 18, he’d had a kid, and his opportunities were very limited. Meanwhile, I had so many fantastic options for my university, career. It just seemed deeply unfair.

A Peek healthcare worker examines patient in her own home. Photo: Courtesy of Peek

A Peek healthcare worker examines patient in her own home. Photo: Courtesy of Peek

But why eye care?

I grew up very short-sighted. I was at the bottom of my class until I was about 12, when my mum dragged me kicking and screaming to the optician’s and insisted I get some glasses. Suddenly I could suddenly see everything perfectly — and I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten that moment. So I’ve always been struck with the power of being able to have sight returned, the impact it can have. After that, I started to do well at school, and was better at sport. I looked a bit more geeky, but I was doing better in a lot of other ways.

So it had always been in my mind at medical school to go into ophthalmology. I spent my summer holidays traveling, visiting people who were doing eye care in resource-poor settings, and just really fell in love with the possibilities. There are so many people who are unnecessarily blind. Had they been living in the UK, they would have never have gotten to the point where their vision problems were anything more than a nuisance. I knew this would be how I’d spend my life.

Untreated eye disease must be a problem in many developing countries. Why did you choose to focus on Kenya?

I’d worked in various countries short term, from Uganda, Sierra Leone and Madagascar to Peru and Belize. I then got the opportunity to work at the International Center for Eye Health on a PhD program. We were to do a large trial in Kenya, for which we’d be required to take lots of expensive equipment to 100 different locations to try and work out why people were going blind. I was excited because I knew this research would result in change, as opposed to only lead to papers and publications.

The most common causes of blindness are the same everywhere in the world — with cataract the top cause. In developing countries, blindness is an issue of access to healthcare, not usually a result of weird and wonderful tropical diseases, although there are certain infectious diseases that are more prevalent in Africa.

To read the full article, visit the TED Blog >>>

How mega-landscaping might reshape the world

“I believe that this boundary we’ve created between humanity and our environment is artificial,” says Bradley Cantrell, a computational landscape architect. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

“I believe that this boundary we’ve created between humanity and our environment is artificial,” says Bradley Cantrell, a computational landscape architect. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

Picture a spillway gate that doesn’t just release water from an overflowing river, but manipulates sediments to create new streams, islands and wetlands. And imagine that the gate does this autonomously, guided by ecological data and shifting needs — essentially allowing nature to “evolve.” Computational landscape architect Bradley Cantrell is figuring how to do this by applying environmental sensing, machine learning, predictive modeling and robotics to environmental engineering.

The TED Blog asked Cantrell to talk to us about his ideas, how they would work, and how computational landscaping may change the relationship between human beings, machines, and nature.

What is our current relationship to the natural environment, and how do you envision changing it?

Right now, human beings are really good at saying, “We want this river to move very quickly, and we want it to always be predictable.” So we can engineer a predictable river. Take the Los Angeles River, which is a simple example. It’s basically a concrete channel. We’ve taken all the unpredictability out of it because it used to jump its banks and flood a large part of the Los Angeles River basin. We said, “We want it to be within this 20-meter-wide zone and to never move, and we want it to always run at the same velocity so it never backs up and floods anything.”

But that’s not the way an ecosystem or river works. It actually has a whole range of behaviors. We currently don’t allow these systems to have a range of behaviors. I would like to change this so that our infrastructures allow the creation of evolving and changing ecosystems.

A diagram of landscape monitoring and synthesis. Image: Joshua Brooks, Devon Boutte, Martin Moser, Kim Nguyen

A diagram of landscape monitoring and synthesis. Image: Joshua Brooks, Devon Boutte, Martin Moser, Kim Nguyen

Where does the idea of computational landscape architecture fit in?

Computational landscape architecture is the idea that, using computing and machine learning, we can build physical infrastructures and natural landscapes that relate symbiotically with our cities and natural systems.

In theory, what we’re doing is embedding the complexity that exists in natural ecological systems into our own manmade environments. We do this by feeding computers data from natural historical records. So, for example, you might have a set of records about how a particular ecosystem performed, such as the behavior of a river’s water levels and velocity. Then you might have a series of predictive models, about how sea-level rise due to climate change will affect this local ecosystem, for instance. These predictive models are used to develop a computational logic which allows them to make autonomous decisions about how it uses infrastructure — like spillway gates — to prevent possible problems.

This means that computers end up having a life of their own, within our design goals. Machine learning can be compared to how we make decisions: we make choices for the future based on data from experiences we’ve had in the past.

In your talk, you offered the example of the Mississippi River, for which you’ve prototyped a computational infrastructure. Walk us through the process of how it would work.

The example I most often give is a system of spillway gates that, instead of simply allowing river water to flood a lake when it gets too high, precisely controls the flow of water to create landscapes that benefit biodiversity or protect cities from storms — and does so in an automated way.

A prototype of the robotic spillway gate, which automatically distributes sediments according to computational instructions. Project: Bradley Cantrell, Justine Holzman, Prentiss Darden

A prototype of the robotic spillway gate, which automatically distributes sediments according to computational instructions. Project: Bradley Cantrell, Justine Holzman, Prentiss Darden

The Mississippi River has always jumped its banks. If you look at the shape of Louisiana, its shape is the result of the sediments in the floodwater building out land. Left to its own devices, once the river finds its longest route, it jumps its bank and tries to find a shorter route. Rivers naturally do this kind of cycling.

In the last 100 years or so, we’ve built levees all the way down the river. If you look on a map, you’ll see the Mississippi River now has this really long route, and it’s just continued to build and build and now its dumping dirt off the continental shelf into deep ocean water. There’s actually a shorter route for the Mississippi river: it naturally wants to jump its banks and go down what’s called the Atchafalaya Basin. The US Army Corps of Engineers built a structure where it wants to jump, forcing it to go the long way.

Why? Is it because people are there?

No. The Atchafalaya Basin could easily be flooded, with few consequences. But New Orleans sits further downstream, and if you change the route of the Mississippi River, suddenly New Orleans becomes completely irrelevant in terms of a city. It would be sitting out in this exposed area with no river next to it. So for the sake of commerce, we still want ships to come through. There’s all kinds of mega-engineering going on to keep that river the way we want it to be.

The problem was, in the past the levee would just break down in certain areas and start to flood out into the bayous. This happens whenever the river is very high. It breaks free in certain areas and it just floods, and all of this dirt carried down from Iowa and St Louis dumps out into the area, basically replenishing the land there. People have said, “Well, we should just begin to build massive gates on the river, and whenever the river gets to be too high, we’ll relieve the pressure by flooding these areas.” So the safety aspect is already in place. There are two spillways: one of them floods the whole Atchafalaya Basin, and the other one floods Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans.

Those projects were both built in the ’50s and ’60s, right after they forced the river into its current configuration. But these solutions haven’t been about pushing water into land we want to build. They’re pushing it into places that we then have to go back and dredge out so that the Ponchartrain can still be a lake, and the Atchafalaya Basin can still be a river.

Above: Watch Bradley Cantrell’s spillway gate “print” a landscape by controlling the flow of sediment-laden water.

With your solution, what would happen?

I’m adding a layer to this. Let’s say we go ahead and open up these spillways in a range of new locations that are already being proposed. What if each of those spillways had a whole range of things it could do, rather than simply flooding or not flooding? And how can we speed up or slow down the velocity of the water coming through? The answer is by opening these gates in different sequences. Think of the way you put your finger over a water hose. When we slow the flow down, sediments fall out of it, and by speeding it up, it carries sediments further, or breaks obstacles down and pushes beyond them.

So just using those two mechanisms, we plan to push the water and the dirt to go where we want it to go. If we have control over the land-formation process alone, we can start making choices about whether ecosystems should evolve in a certain way, and we can help nudge things in that direction. Once the system is fully functioning, it would form landscapes on its own, but it will have had our curatorial help.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

10 things you need to know about tapirs (psst: there’s a baby tapir named TED)

You don’t want to come between a tapir baby and its mother — the normally docile animals become fierce when offspring are threatened. Photo: Daniel Zupanc

If you want to call someone a “jackass” in Brazil, you call them a “tapir.” These large, forest-dwelling mammals look a bit like a cross between a wild boar and an anteater. And while they’re often derided, they are truly amazing animals.

Brazilian conservation biologist Patricia Medici is utterly devoted to tapirs. When this TED Fellow first started working with tapirs in 1996, nearly nothing was known about the elusive herbivores. Now, thanks in part to her research, we know that tapirs are central to the health of forest ecosystems — and that they are under threat.

This week, the Sixth International Tapir Symposium – the world’s only conference dedicated to tapirs — convenes in Campo Grande, Brazil, bringing together 100 conservationists, researchers, NGOs and governmental agencies from around the world to strategize about tapir conservation and survival. The symposium is the official conference of the IUCN’s Tapir Specialist Group, which Medici has chaired since 2000.

As the conference kicks off, we asked her to share some fascinating facts about her favorite animal. Here’s what she had to say, in her own words.

1. Tapirs are considered living fossils. They’ve been around since the Eocene, having survived several waves of extinction. There are four surviving tapir species: mountain tapirs from the Andean Mountains; Central American tapirs; Asian tapirs in Southeast Asia; and South American tapirs — the ones I studies most closely.

2. Tapirs are pregnant for more than a year. It’s actually pretty amazing that tapirs are still around at all, as they reproduce very slowly. They have a gestation period of 13-14 months and only one offspring is born at a time. If a population’s numbers decline — due to deforestation, disease, hunting or roadkill — it’s very unlikely it will ever recover. In fact, things can reach a point where there are no populations to speak of — only individuals lost in the landscape. Tapirs can be persistent and adaptable in isolation, which is why they’ve managed to survive for so long. But despite their resilience, their genetics get compromised.

3. Tapirs are South America’s largest land mammals. They can weigh up to 300 kilos, which is about half the size of a horse. This heft makes it possible for the animals to push trees over to get to fruits. While they’re generally gentle, docile animals, they can attack when feeling threatened — especially females with babies. Tapirs are also nocturnal, hiding in thick patches of forest to sleep most of the day, and waking at around 3:30 in the afternoon to forage. This combination of weight and night hours means that they are very difficult animals to study in the field — you can’t just follow a tapir and collect data. You have to capture, anesthetize and radio-collar them, set camera traps, and radio-track them during the night when they are active. This may be why it took so long for people to start studying tapirs seriously.

To read the full article, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

Ordinary people in an extraordinary moment: Portraits of the men + women caught up in revolution in Ukraine

TED Fellow Anastasia Taylor-Lind on the other side of the camera in Ukraine. She originally planned to photograph a series about the declining population in the country, but quickly realized that the protests were her story. Photo: Alexander Checkmenev

When Anastasia Taylor-Lind found herself in Kiev at the height of violence during Ukraine’s Independence Square protests, the documentary photographer decided to record not the fighting itself, but the human beings involved. Setting up a makeshift photo studio in an alleyway inside the barricaded square, she beckoned passers-by — the protesters themselves, and later the women who came to mourn their deaths — and captured their images on film, using a medium-format camera. The result is a hauntingly intimate, arresting set of portraits that gives a sense of the ordinary people in an extraordinary moment, and gender roles in conflict situations.

As events continue to unfold after Ukraine’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, Taylor-Lind tells the TED Blog about her experiences during those harrowing days.

Why were you in Kiev during the protests? Did you go to cover it as a photojournalist?

I initially traveled to Ukraine as part of a wider, long-term project I’m working on called Negative Zero, that looks at Europe’s declining populations. There are 19 countries inside Europe that have declining populations, and Ukraine is one of them. I had been to Romania, Serbia and Nagorno-Karabakh already, and Ukraine was next on my list. And actually, even before the war, Ukraine had the lowest life expectancy for men inside Europe.

So I traveled to Ukraine with the idea that I was going to photograph a story about winter deaths. I was going to look at TB dispensaries, AIDS hospices and palliative care — or the lack of it — for cancer patients, and the elderly. I arrived in Kiev and was researching how to facilitate access to these places that actually all lay in Donbass, in the east of Ukraine. It is a war zone today, but it was peaceful at that time. While there, I started photographing the protests in Maidan.

I knew the protests were going on. Corruption and depopulation are two very closely linked issues — and these were essentially anti-corruption protests, so already there was some relevance. Once I started photographing in Maidan, and particularly working on the portraits, I knew that I had to stay, and that my story was there.

I was in Ukraine again in August, and I tried to reach some of the places I had initially planned to photograph, but they were cut off by the fighting, so I wasn’t able to follow up my initial plan.

What are some factors for low life-expectancy in Ukraine?

Smoking, alcohol and drug addiction, poverty, poor access to health care — and now war.

Eugene, 22. Protestor from L’viv region. February 24, 2014. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

You’re primarily a documentary photographer. What made you decide, in that moment, to shoot portraits?

I had never done a portrait series before. But I made my decision to shoot portraits in reaction to the presence of so many other journalists in Kiev and in Maidan. It was a news event, and I was working alongside so many of my colleagues and my friends. That’s really unusual for me — I’m not used to working surrounded by other photographers. Of course, if I’d been the only photographer in Kiev, I wouldn’t have shot the portraits — I would have had to take reportage pictures to show you what was happening. But the presence of all of the other photographers made me understand that I didn’t have to tell the whole story as one individual — what I could do was contribute one small part to the collective recording and collective understanding of the events there. Acknowledging that and trying to find one thing — one way to talk about it, the way that only I could talk about it — led me to making these portraits.

I’d been in a news situation once before, in Libya, during the revolution in 2011, and I’d felt a similar frustration. It’s not necessary to repeat news pictures that other people are taking; as a photographer, you have to not just find something to say, but you have to find your own way to say it. I struggled with that in Libya, and then the idea came to me, I should make portraits — both of the journalists as well as the fighters. Because what I noticed in Libya was that we photographers were emulating the costumes of the rebels.

That sounds dangerous!

It’s something that happens naturally, I guess. Not that photographers were wearing combat clothing, but they had a similar look: hipsterish, skinny jeans, beards, the checked scarves. When I was in Kiev, I noticed the same thing: we all looked like the fighters, like somehow we were all choosing the same clothes. This reminded me that I’d had this idea to take portraits in Libya, but I hadn’t done it, because I’m not a portrait photographer, I’m a reportage photographer. This time, it was the photographers around me who said, “That’s a good idea, you should do it!” So in a way, the presence of all the other journalists pushed me to do something different from them. It helped me to push myself creatively.

All the people you photographed were in the middle of either fighting or mourning. How did you get them to agree to stand still for a portrait?

My portrait studio was by the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street, inside the barricade of Maidan. I set up my studio there every day in the same place. It was a collapsible metal frame with a black muslin curtain. I placed it in a bricked-up alleyway, so it was set back a little bit, and my fixer Emine had a gold reflector to bounce the light onto the subjects. We stood there all day.

That spot was on a thoroughfare leading to the barricades, the front line with the Berkut, the police. So we’d stop people as they were passing and ask them to come to the studio. After the worst days of violence — February 18 through the 20th, 2014 — all of these fighters were joined by tens of thousands of civilians in the square. Many women came to lay flowers for the people who had been killed — they started laying the flowers at the points where people had died, which you could tell because there was the blood on the ground. People set up small shrines and put crosses there. Eventually the whole square was covered in millions of flowers.

Natasha, 21. Mourner from Kiev. February 23, 2014. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

To read the full interview, please visit the TED Blog >>>

 

 

Art that floats: Constance Hockaday plans an immersive experience on a boat

Diagram of Hockaday’s proposed project Always Get on the Boat, a waterborne celebration of the Fifth Street Marina community in Oakland, California. Image: Julie Freeman

Constance Hockaday makes large-scale installations on open water. Identifying as a Chilean-American queer artist, Hockaday creates spaces that celebrate creative freedom and counterculture communities while defying gentrification. Take the Floating Peep Show — in which out-of-work drag queens and exotic dancers performed in the hulls of sailboats in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Now, Hockaday plans to turn a retired Coast Guard vessel into a venue for a huge waterborne multimedia spectacle. Always Get on the Boat will both celebrate and mourn the likely demise of the Fifth Street Marina — a longstanding alternative community on a post-industrial waterfront in Oakland, California, that is slated to be overrun by commercial development.

As she sets the plans for this new work, we talked to Hockaday about the struggle to make space for alternative culture, and why urban access to open water is so important.

In your talk at TEDGlobal 2014, you described the Floating Peep Show, and how it was inspired by two San Francisco counterculture establishments that had closed within months of each other — the Lusty Lady and Esta Noche. Tell us more about what these were.

The Lusty Lady was the nation’s only worker-owned, unionized adult entertainment business. It was a peep show, so you looked through a window at women — and people of actually many different genders, body shapes and looks — and you look at them without their clothes off, or erotic dancing. It was an institution, and it was located in what was known as the Barbary Coast. It felt a part of the old San Francisco, maybe one of the last places that felt like it was connected to that. It catered to the general public and also specifically to feminists, queers and radical sex culture, as well as kink and a very counterculture underground scene that’s played a huge part in the shaping of San Francisco. They shut down this past year.

Then, six months later, so did Esta Noche, a Latino gay bar in the Mission. It was spectacular, very special. It provided a place for gay Latinos who didn’t necessarily have a place in white gay-man world or in Latino culture. Everybody was welcome — it was like a queer Quinceañera every night.

Why did they shut down?

It was partly because clientele had moved out of the city because they couldn’t afford to be there. Social networking has also changed a lot of the way that queer culture interacts with each other. But these were cultural institutions.

So I rafted together four sailboats, and each one was a performance space. I contacted a bunch of Lusty Lady alumni, a bunch of drag queens from Esta Noche, as well as DJs and people from the Center for Sex and Culture. I hired them for four nights to perform inside the hulls of sailboats. We built a wall so that you couldn’t actually walk all the way into the boat: you could just step in. There was a money slot, and you could pay to see the performers. I told them to do whatever they wanted. Some of them did sex shows, some of them did strip shows, some of them did karaoke shows, some of them did super high fashion.

We picked people up in small inflatable boats, and transported more than 600 audience members across the San Francisco Bay to the sailboats in four nights. One night we did it near Dogpatch, in industrial San Francisco, and then three nights we did it in Clipper Cove, on Treasure Island. Everybody was there: all the old, curmudgeonly sailors who were all in charge of the sailboats, plus sex workers, drag queens, friends, art dorks, pervy kink dudes, tech kids. All hanging out in the middle of the water on these boats.

This was great, because it can be lonely and frustrating and confusing to be an artist in a place where artists are losing real estate, and losing a way to survive in that role in society. It’s hard enough to be an artist in general. It’s a scary life path to choose.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

Mazda names four TED Fellows “Rebels with a Cause.” Psst: One of their new projects will get funded based on your vote

Andrew Bastawrous dreams of a bakery in Nakuru, Kenya, that will not only make delicious treats but raise money for subsidized vision care. Robert Simpson envisions First Responders, a program to make satellite data available to citizen scientists in crisis situations, to guide aid efforts from afar. Cesar Harada wants to create larger prototypes of his highly maneuverable sailing robots, designed to collect ocean data and clean up oil spills. Ryan Holladay imagines a series of artistic pit stops along California’s Highway 1.

At the end of October, Mazda will offer a grant to fund one of these four projects. Which one will it be? That is up to you. The grant will go to whichever project gets the most popular support online. Mazda is looking to celebrate — and fund — people who are challenging conventions to make things better.

Which project should you vote for? Read more about these four iconoclasts and their big ideas below.

andrew_bastawrous

Get to know: Eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous
The Cliffs notes: Andrew Bastawrous is a TED2014 Fellow who created a smartphone eye exam app, PEEK, to reach people in Kenya who otherwise wouldn’t visit a doctor.
Inspiring quote: “In Kenya, 4 out of every 5 people who are blind don’t need to be.”
His new project: The Ujima Bakery, a social enterprise bakery that will employ locals in Nakuru, Kenya. It will offer up healthy foods, and proceeds help support free eye care in Nakuru.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would help us accelerate the growth of the Ujima Bakery, which will generate profits to subsidize eye care to those in the area who cannot afford it. The grant will also be used to support St. Mary’s Hospital, where so many of our patients have received excellent care. This support may be in the form of a vehicle to enable more patients to be picked up, or funding towards their ongoing program until the bakery is generating sufficient funds for long-term sustainability. The grant would also enable us to start getting PEEK out there to those who need it most.”
Watch his TED TalkGet your next eye exam on a smartphone

robert_simpson

Get to know: Science crowdsourcer Robert Simpson
The Cliffs notes: Robert is a TED2014 Fellow who has created a way for everyday folks to contribute to science through the online platform Zooniverse. So far, users have discovered a galaxy and contributed to breast cancer research.
Inspiring quote: “The excitement that I feel as an astronomer when I discover something — I get to convey that to people who discovered for it for themselves.”
His new project: First Responders, which would make aerial photography data available to citizen scientists during disasters in real-time, so they can offer from-the-air help to first responders.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “At the Zooniverse, we want to get into the humanitarian space and try to put our crowdsourcing platform to use to more directly help people. Imagine if, as well as donating money, people could give their time and brain power to help spot people in trouble, find access routes, or map other data crucial for the people on the ground. We’d love to make that happen, and the grant would kickstart those efforts.”
Read his TED profileYou found a planet!: Accelerating discovery at Zooniverse

cesar_harada

Get to know: Environmental inventor Cesar Harada
The Cliffs notes: Cesar is a TED Senior Fellow who created Protei, a sailing robot with open-source technology designed for efficient cleanup of oil and plastics from the sea. He looks for ways to use natural ocean phenomenon, like currents and wind, to curb disasters.
Inspiring quote: “The crazy person to me is the person who doesn’t take risks, who denies their own capacity to influence change in the world.”
His new project: So far, Protei prototypes have been small, autonomous vehicles about a meter long. Harada would like to make larger versions, to make the technology big enough for the open ocean and to see what happens when sailors and surfers are able to control its movement.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would change everything for us. We would be able to build and operate a two-person boat and create larger autonomous sailing robots. It would also allow us to do more mapping around Fukushima, where the power plant exploded in 2011 about 100 kilometers away from my family. This is not a Japanese problem—it is a global problem. There will be more nuclear accidents in the future, and we need to be ready. For me, this is emotional because Mazda has its headquarters in Hiroshima. It’s a company built on the ashes of the nuclear bomb, a symbol of Japanese courage and vitality. Japan is now in a similar situation. To have Mazda support our work in healing the ocean, in helping the Tohoku region, in contributing to Japan rising from its ashes again—that would be a tremendous honor.”
Watch his TED TalkA novel idea for cleaning up oil spills

ryan_holladay

Get to know: Musical artist Ryan Holladay
The Cliffs notes: Ryan Holladay is a TED2013 Fellow who creates site-specific sound installations. With his partner Hays Holladay, he’s composed pieces activated by the National Mall in Washington, DC, and by Central Park in New York City.
Inspiring quote: “Think of this as a choose-your-own-adventure of an album.”
His new project: Holladay would like to create his largest location-aware album to date, one that spans the entirety of Highway 1 on the Pacific coast of the US. By teaming up with painters and designers, he wants to create a series of artistic pit stops along this famous road.
What winning this grant would mean for his project: “This grant would give us the ability to go further with our technology than we have in the past. Our projects have been a labor of love, and we’ve released all of them for free. Having no revenue from the apps posed a problem for us, as we weren’t able to update them as frequently as we would have liked. It has limited our ability to make the audio engine as robust as we know it could be. We’ve been so inspired by this beautiful stretch of highway along the Pacific coast, and we would love the opportunity to execute this concept of location-specific audio on a larger scale than we’ve done before and recruit other artists that we’ve always wanted to work with to help.”
Watch his TED TalkTo hear this music, you have to be there. Literally.

This story has been cross-posted from the TED Blog >>>

From a floating peepshow to a jaw-dropping medical demo: A recap of Fellows Session 2 at TEDGlobal 2014

Bill Selenga performing at the TED Fellows talks, Session 2, TEDGlobal 2014, South, October 5-10, 2014, Copacabana Palace Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

In Session 2 of TEDGlobal 2014 Fellows Talks: a waterborne peep show in San Francisco, a triage app that saves lives, the architecture of death, and more!

The session starts with Bill “Blinky” Sellanga performing “Usinibore” solo on acoustic guitar. “It was a song I wrote in 2008 in response to the post-election violence,” he says, “when I was feeling very helpless.” The lyrics: “Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do. I can change the world.” This Kenyan producer and DJ fronts the musical collective Just-A-Band, which mixes genres like hip-hop, electronica and funk to make music for popular radio that give a voice to Kenyan youth. (Watch a video of Just-A-Band’s version of this song.)

Computational biologist Marcela Uliano da Silva is sequencing the invasive golden mussel’s genome to find the animals’ weaknesses and strengths. This mussel arrived in South America in the 1990s, choking river systems and causing millions in damages as it clogged power plants and water treatment facilities. At the same time, this mussel alters the transparency of water, allowing sunlight to penetrate and leading to toxic blooms, oxygen deprivation and massive fish deaths, homogenizing ecosystems over time. Uliano da Silva hopes to develop a genetic therapy that would prevent the mussels from being able to attach to substrates. This would target the mussel without the need for substances like chlorine, which don’t work well and harm the surrounding biodiversity in their own way. But the clock is ticking. At the moment, the golden mussel is only 150 km from the first river in the Amazon River basin, says Uliano da Silva. If the golden mussel gets there, it would spell disaster for the Amazon, which is also critically linked to the health of the rest of the planet.

Landscape architect Bradley Cantrell introduces a brand-new concept: engineered environments using computational landscaping. Current environmental construction is, like a prosthetic, functionally limited. It looks like nature, he explains, but it’s limited in function and can’t feel or respond to stimuli. In contrast, computational landscape architecture uses environmental sensing, computation and robotics, along with models, animations and illustrations built from data to gain a deeper understanding about how ecosystem dynamics work — to allow construction of landscapes that act as a natural extension of nature. He offers an example: a prototype of a Mississippi River spillway that can essentially “print” land, somewhat like an inkjet printer. The prototype opens and closes the spillway gates to divert water and re-shape and stabilize land forms. It keeps in mind support for plants and animals, while protecting cities from severe weather.

Chilean-American queer artist Constance Hockaday is interested in water as an undefinable space of unfettered liberty. It upholds the idea that living beings have the right to own the space that their physical bodies occupy, and the right to freedom of movement. “The social order of land has forgotten these basic rights,” says Hockaday. Last summer, she explored these ideas in a floating peep show. She latched four 30-foot sailboats together, using their hulls as performance spaces. Here, she gathered exotic dancers and drag queens from two radical and celebrated San Francisco establishments that had closed within six months of each other: the worker-owned peepshow Lusty Lady, and the Latino gay bar Esta Noche. More than 600 audience members were ferried by sailors to see this floating show, many of whom had never been on the water, never been on a boat or never been to a peep show. To Hockaday, the event represented a tear in social order, and a gathering of people successfully conversing with the urban and natural environment on their own terms.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>

 

Save the whales (and the humans too): A recap of TED Fellows Session 1 at TEDGlobal 2014

Patricia Medici speaks about the South American lowland tapir, an animal about half the size of a horse that deserves your deepest respect. Photo: Ryan Lash

It’s time for TED Fellows Talks, the Rio edition! Twenty TED Fellows and Senior Fellows opened the conference in the stunning Golden Room of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. In Session 1, learn more about a grassroots marine conservation movement in Madagascar, a vending machine that dispenses food staples in Chile and a new database of African genetics. Plus much, much more.

Pakistani composer Usman Riaz opens the Fellows session with his new piano piece, “The Creation of the Universe.” It starts out quiet and dreamy, opening out into a dramatic second movement. The multitalented Riaz is also a filmmaker and visual artist, and a sophomore at the Berklee College of Music.

Kuwaiti-born Palestinian photographer Laura Boushnak faced many barriers on her way to becoming a photographer. This inspired her to turn her lens on women in the Arab world who are also motivated to improve their lives through education, while confronting cultural and social barriers. In her project “I Read, I Write,” Boushnak addresses such topics as female illiteracy — which is quite high in the region — as well as educational reforms and political activism among university students. Often, her subjects — who hail from a wide range of social and economic situations — are reluctant to be photographed, but agree once Boushnak reassures them that they will serve as role models in their communities. Sometimes, Boushnak asks women to write their thoughts on prints of their portraits. She shares some of their words. “I sought education in order to be independent and not count on men for everything,” writes Aisha, a teacher from Yemen. And, from a Tunisian activist: “Question your convictions, be who you want to be, not who they want you to be; don’t accept their enslavement, for your mother birthed you free.”

Marine ecologist Alasdair Harris has a new metaphor for fish conservation: investment banking. When a few fish are allowed to reproduce in reserves, their fertility explodes. The bigger they grow, the more they produce, eventually swimming out of the reserve to replenish nearby oceans where people fish for food. With the simple and effective idea of marine reserves, says Harris, humanity could rebuild the world’s fish stocks — if we could manage to put a third of our oceans in reserve. This is a problem because, at the moment, only a small single-digit percentage of our oceans are protected, and it’s also hard to persuade people whose livelihoods depend on fishing to stop, especially where stocks are already low. Working with octopus fishers in Madagascan villages, Harris convinced one community to stop fishing in a portion of reef to allow local octopi to recover. People saw their long-depleted stocks come back, and watched the octopi grow to ten times their normal size. With this, villagers saw that they could rebuild their fisheries themselves, and the idea went viral. Now Madagascan fishing villages have created 63 permanent reserves in eight years — a fast-growing, locally driven conservation solution working for a quarter of a million Madagascans.

“Our world has many supherheroes,” says Brazilian graffiti artist and activist Mundano, “but they have the worst of all superpowers: invisibility.” He’s referring to catadores, Brazil’s waste pickers, who do the essential work of collecting recyclable materials for a living, pushing carts called carroças to haul materials away. In Brazil, catadores collect 90% of the waste that is recycledTo celebrate these unsung heroes, Mudano began decorating carroças with graffiti art, using color and humor to increase their visibility and stature in the streets, society and culture. He then created Pimp My Carroça, a crowdfunded event that invites everyone from physicians, podiatrists, hairstylists and massage therapists to offer services to catadores, while artists paint their carts with vivid graffiti and outfit them with reflective tape, horns and mirrors. The demand for this event grew to other cities, even outside Brazil, spawning an offshoot independent event, Pimpex — DIY events inspired by TEDx. To date, Mundano has painted more than 200 carroças, and has visited wastepicking cultures in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Turkey, the US and Japan. There are over 20 million catadores worldwide, Mudnano notes, and he challenges us to see them as a vital part of our society.

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>