Update TED2012 Fellows applications extended until August 1

Apply now to join the TED2012 Fellows class, and attend TED2012: Full Spectrum in Long Beach. Artists, scientists, inventors, change-makers … Learn more about the amazing TED Fellows program >> UPDATE: Application deadline is Monday, August 1, 2011, 11:59pm US/Eastern. Source: blog.ted.com

Fellows Friday with Walid AlSaqaf

Walid Al-Saqaf developed alkasir, software to circumvent Internet censorship. In this interview, Walid tells us why he’s vowed never to succumb to authoritarian regimes. >>>

Walid asks:

Can Internet censorship of any particular content be justified under certain circumstances? Explain.

Click here to respond on Facebook now! Or join Walid’s live Q&A on TED Conversations August 5, 1pm to 2pm Eastern.

How did your journey in resisting censorship begin?

I come from Yemen, and in 2007 I developed a website called YemenPortal.net. This website is a news aggregator similar to, but of course much smaller in scale than, Google News. It handles several news websites on Yemen, bringing in content from government, opposition, independent news websites, blogs, videos, you name it — all having to do with Yemen.

I come from a journalistic background, and I also hold a degree in computer engineering, so I thought maybe I could merge the two together, and build a website that dynamically collects, aggregates and sorts information on Yemen. I thought of it as a contribution to my own country, and as a means to get my Master’s degree. Within a short time, the website had thousands of readers because it was something that no one had done before for Yemen.

I had ambitions that YemenPortal.net would be something of importance in the future. Unfortunately, in 2008 the Yemeni government became disgruntled because I did not filter out strongly worded opposition articles from certain websites. These websites were mostly hosted abroad, so the owners weren’t really persecuted — their websites were just blocked inside Yemen.

If you go to my website, you can see summaries of articles from other websites. People would click on the article links from my website, and go nowhere, because the articles are blocked. However, I still thought it was important for everyone to know what other websites are talking about. My idea was to ensure that everyone is represented. I didn’t want to act like the government does, filtering some viewpoints, while allowing others to be read.

Eventually my website itself got banned by the government. In trying to help others’ voices be heard, my own site was silenced. I realized I needed to investigate circumventing censorship, because if I couldn’t help myself, no one would help me.

That was when my journey in resisting censorship started. I fell first as a victim, but then I became an advocate for freedom of expression online.

That led to you developing alkasir, your software to circumvent censorship. How does it work?

Alkasir, which is an Arabic word meaning “the circumventor,” is a series of applications to help people access censored websites in their country. Alkasir started as a plugin for Firefox and Mozilla, developed into a web-based proxy on my own website, and then developed into another application as a pilot version, alkasir 1.1. I later developed 1.2 which is a much more advanced version of it. I have about 30,000 users worldwide — compared to many circumvention solutions, it’s not many — but it’s pretty substantial number. I have users in over 70 countries.

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Fellows Friday with Robert Gupta

LA Philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta performs for the homeless and mentally ill. In this interview, he discusses his experiences with the awesome healing power of music.

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Robert asks:

With the advent of amazing online videos, why are we still so compelled to experience live performance (music, sports games, dance)?

Starting Saturday, click here to respond!

As a TED Senior Fellow, you got to attend TEDGlobal 2011. How was your first TEDGlobal experience?

It was unbelievable. I’ve been to two previous TEDs in Long Beach, but TEDGlobal was a very different experience: us Fellows had some more time to bond, which was great. The entering class of Fellows at TED Global 2011 was ridiculously awesome. I always walk away from TED feeling like, “Wow, I’m doing nothing. I have to do more.” Seeing the other Fellows always give me such inspiration.

It’s amazing to track how I am personally developing through TED Conferences. Part of being a Fellow means receiving validation for my crazy ideas. The rest of the world may think I’m nuts, but the TED team thinks I should be nurturing those ideas and building on them.

Tell us about some of those “crazy ideas” that TED inspired you to follow up on. What’s next on your plate?

I’m starting a non-profit organization called Street Symphony that brings live music to the homeless and mentally ill on Skid Row. The mission statement of the non-profit is to bring music to the most underserved communities throughout L.A. I also want to play for autistic children, veterans, victims of massive brain trauma, prisoners, at hospices, on Indian reservations ….

At my first TED, I spoke about my experience with Nathaniel Ayers, a paranoid schizophrenic musician. Seeing all the things other Fellows and TEDsters were doing, it wasn’t enough anymore to have just had this experience with Nathaniel. I desperately wanted to come back to TED, and to expand my work I’d begun with Nathaniel. So when I came back to TED as a Senior Fellow, Adrian Hong, one of the other Senior Fellows, said, “If you want to do something, you should start a non-profit.” And we sat down and did a budget right there at TED. Now he’s on my board.

In terms of career paths, I’m extremely happy where I am right now. Playing with the LA Philharmonic is a dream job. Our new director, Gustavo Dudamel, is a genius, and it is amazing to make music with him. And we play at Disney Hall, and I have a chance to live in LA, and there is all this amazing music happening here.

You recently recorded your Kickstarter-funded debut album, which includes your original Indian Raga, European classical music, and American music composed for you. When will the album be released?

We still have to do editing, mastering, producing, and pressing. We’re aiming for the beginning of next year for the release.

Recording the album was an incredible experience. We were able to record at Disney Hall, and I had the chance to play on an amazing violin: the 1716 Milstein Stradivarius. For me, to even be in the same room as that instrument makes me act like a puppy on Ritalin. I just go nuts.

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Fellows Friday with Minou Norouzi

Minou Norouzi is breaking the rules when it comes to documentary filmmaking. Read on to learn how this Austrian-Iranian found the courage to step outside the lines.

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Minou asks:

How can uncertainty be perceived as a strength?

Starting Saturday, click here to respond!

You describe yourself as a “moving image artist.” Why not a “documentary filmmaker”?

Moving image artist comes with a less troubled definition. When I’ve referred to myself as a documentary filmmaker, people have questioned whether or not what I do is in fact documentary films. And I’m interested in that debate. Referring to myself as an artist can lead to a whole lot more questions. So I feel Moving Image Artist is more precise, in a general kind of way, and it’s a quick way of saying I make films within a fine art context.

How did your professional artistic career begin?

At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and made a piece called Imago. It’s a portrait of actors in their day jobs, delivering their favorite lines from a movie. Imago marked the beginning of me feeling comfortable as an artist. I think when you feel very at home with a piece of work, it resonates.

Imago (Still), 2006

What do you hope people take away from your films?

I like to think I am creating a flat canvas in which people can project themselves. I want the work to be about submitting to a lack of understanding, and feeling slightly comfortable with being confused — or just accepting that not everything is solvable. I like incompletion.

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Fellows Friday with Eric Berlow

Positive feedback loops can be found in even the messiest conflicts, ecosystems and corporations, according to Eric Berlow. The trick, he tells TED, is to not confuse the means with the ends.

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Eric asks:

Instead of narrow specialization, how can our educational system better train integrative, innovative, and adaptive problem solvers?

Starting Saturday, click here to respond!

You work on problems from a “network” or “systems” perspective. How has this practice evolved for you?

In the past, I’ve mostly focused on networks in nature: how species are interconnected. Then I began to see how networks could be applied more generically, and I got very interested in the potential applications network thinking had to other types of complex problems.

What are some of the complex problems you are working on now?

Currently, I’m working for a foundation on mapping the structure of successful non-violent movements in the Middle East. In particular, we’re focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are all the moving parts of a successful non-violent movement? How are they all related? Are there some positive feedback loops, with points of entry that we haven’t thought of before?

I have also been working with a large corporation on the future energy supply and it’s relation to food and water security. If, for example, we replaced all fossil fuels with bio-fuels, they would conflict with land for food production. And if we powered everything with electricity, that would strain water resources, because a lot of electrical production, even renewable electricity, is water-use intensive. There’s a lot of interest in mapping out how we can meet our need for energy, food and water simultaneously.

Additionally, I’ve just started collaborating with an interesting start-up, Open Data Registry, on sustainable supply chains. For example, we worked with data from Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles project. For a number of their clothing articles, you can go online and trace where the raw materials came from, how much energy and carbon emissions were expended, how much waste was produced, etc. We compiled all the data for all the supply chains of every product and mapped it as a clothing ‘ecosystem’. Then you can visualize the entire web for the whole corporation, and see which one aspect of the whole production would have the most impact in increasing efficiency for the entire company. Maybe there’s one factory or shipping route that, with increased efficiency, would change everything down the line from there.

To me, the most interesting thing about diving in to complex problems is that, on the one hand, one problem leads to many problems, but that also means that a single solution can cause many solutions.

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Fellows Friday with Daniel Zoughbie

With Microclinic International, Daniel Zoughbie is making health contagious, and believes that it’s critical to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Microclinic International has a unique philosophy of “contagious health.” What does that mean?

Common sense tells us that negative things like violence, smoking behaviors and unhealthy eating habits are socially contagious: they spread from person to person, family to family, and are even influenced by television and other things. If this is the case, why can’t we make healthy behaviors contagious? Why can’t we make a positive health epidemic? We can use these strong social interactions to actively prevent the spread of major chronic disease epidemics, and perhaps even reverse them.

What are micro-clinics, and how do they work?

 Micro-clinics are not an infrastructure of buildings; they’re an infrastructure of people, of human relationships. At Microclinic International, we recognize that we did not create these infrastructures: they already exist in a community. It’s important for us to find good local partners, we work with doctors and nurses, gain their local expertise and train them in ours. Then we recruit people to join our micro-clinic groups. We don’t ask them to come as individuals; they have to come as groups. Naturally, they bring their husband, wife, sister, cousin, or best friend who lives next door…

Together, they all go through the program, which shares access to basic education about the disease. They learn how to change important behaviors like how they eat and exercise. They learn about medication, how to take it, how to use certain technologies like a glucose monitoring system, and how to interact with their doctor. They participate in group activities such as, eating healthy meals together.

Because they go through the program as a group, there’s less chance of being ridiculed at home for eating strange foods or coming up with weird ideas from strange doctors and nurses. The group acts as a support system and the positive changes are implanted back into the home. If the husband — in a traditional culture — says, “We’re going to eat healthy meals,” and the wife (it is usually the women who cook) has the ability to prepare the meal, then the other members of the family will not put up as much resistance. Maybe the children will even encourage the parents to exercise. They all learned together, and they made friends with other people going through similar problems.

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Fellows Friday with Nina Tandon

Using electrical signals to grow cells, TED Fellow Nina Tandon hopes to one day grow whole organs for transplant use.

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Nina asks:

If your cells were used to grow an organ in the lab, is it still “your” organ?

Starting Saturday, click here to respond!

What’s your secret to growing healthy cells outside the human body?

It’s an amazing thing that these cells actually grow outside the body. But if we’re going to make them thrive, we need to do a better job of making the cells feel like they’re in their natural environment. That’s one of my main responsibilities — developing systems that we call “bioreactors” that mimic their environment. The cells are really doing everything; we’re just giving them the right environment. It’s like building them a little home where they’re happy.

Once you have the cells and the scaffolding in the bioreactor, you add the “schmutz:” food and chemicals that the cells need.

Then, at our lab we do something unique: we combine all those things with what we call “biophysical cues.” Biophysical cues, such as mechanical forces for the bones and electrical signals for the heart, for the most part have been ignored by biologists and people who study cells.  But biophysical cues are really important because the ideal “home” is going to be different for every kind of cell. Bones in the body, for example, experience a lot of mechanical stress. Those bone cells actually need that mechanical stress in order to be happy. To build a bioreactor for bone cells, you’ll probably want to copy that, and you’ll want to provide scaffolding that mimics what the cells would grow on in the body — probably something hard. To build a bioreactor for heart cells, the scaffolding would probably be something soft, like collagen, that is elastic and can bend and beat.

Nina with a perfusion-stimulation bioreactor and a piece of bone scaffold.

For which cells are electrical signals most significant? 

The three main places that I’ve looked for inspiration in terms of electric fields are in early development, the adult lifetime of the heart, and wound healing. Embryos have tons of electric fields, and they’ve been implicated in getting cells to migrate and transform themselves from “undifferentiated” stem cells into more specialized cells like neurons, bone cells, muscle cells, etc. These currents are really important for getting the cells to move around the embryo. Some of the migration is thought to be caused by electrical fields. A colleague of ours has reversed electrical fields and gotten the heart to beat on the right instead of the left.

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Fellows Friday with Lope GutiérrezRuiz

Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz’s eye-popping magazines and celebrated festivals are creating “pathways to coexistence and tolerance.”

Interactive Fellows Friday Feature:

Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via Facebook. This week, Lope  asks:

What do organized communities achieve more efficiently than government? What could they achieve?

Click here to respond! 

What made you decide to move your Gopher Illustrated Magazine operations from Caracas, Venezuela to Austin, Texas?

The previous publishing endeavor in which I was involved was Plátanoverde magazine, a publication that is almost ten years old. The aim of Plátanoverde was to showcase emerging South American artists to a Venezuelan audience. After traveling extensively for almost a decade through the Latin American region, and, in parallel, consuming English-language media (magazines in particular), I realized my next dream project was to bring a modern perspective of Latin America to English-speaking audiences. My partner, Michelle, and I started the Gopher Project, and The Gopher Illustrated Magazine, with that in mind.

The first (left, held by co-editor Michelle Benaim) and current (right, held by Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz) editions of the Gopher Magazine. (Photo: Romina Olson)

To that end, and after living in Caracas, Venezuela for over a decade, Michelle and I moved the project to Austin about a year ago. In a very short space of time, we’ve become a part of the cultural landscape of the city. My in-depth, hands-on approach as a journalist and cultural manager means that I try to immerse myself in where I am, and to be an active part of the community. Michelle and I have devoted a lot of time to understanding this city and seeing it from as many different approaches as possible. We spend a lot of time talking and collaborating with people from different fields in the arts but also with people involved in journalism, advertising, entrepreneurship, science, research and social work. We try to keep our agenda very busy, meeting different people, so we gain a more holistic perspective.

Do you think that a holistic, immersive approach to culture is important?

I believe that the arts and culture are pathways to coexistence and tolerance. I think that fostering tolerance is particularly important right now in the U.S., with its growing diversity. Over 50 million people in the US are Hispanic/Latino — roughly 18 percent of the population. In the last ten years, it was this demographic that made up 85 percent of the population growth in the US. So I think the challenges facing this country now and in the future, and those pertaining to the multiple facets of a Hispanic/Latino identity, need to be addressed — — not only through top-down policies, but also through work, media, and other initiatives that each of us can enjoy.

“Marlboro Light” made in collaboration with The Gopher, Teleportal Readings, and Austin-based Total Unicorn.

I remember a particular moment in my life when the power of culture really hit home. As a kid growing up in South America I would listen to music in English — rock, electronic, hip-hop, whatever. And then one day I heard this amazing record, and I found out that it was from my own country, Venezuela. I remember understanding that not only was it good in itself, but that it was something I could find pride in — I was part of it, in a sense, because it was a product of my country.

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Synthetic bees, prosthetic eyes Fellows Friday with Anab Jain

Anab Jain’s design studio Superflux envisions a future where the blind are given ultraviolet vision and invasive species are engineered to combat the effects of climate change. She shares her perspective on our not-too-distant future. How would you describe the work that you do at your revolutionary design studio Superflux? We are living in extremely uncertain … Read more

Fellows Friday with Premesh Chandran

Founder of Malaysia’s most popular independent online news source, Premesh Chandran continues to connect and empower citizens despite the personal risks.
Join the conversation by answering Fellows’ weekly questions via TED Conversations. This week, Prem  asks:

We’re coming up with easy tools to build exciting online maps — what stuff would you like to see on a map?
Respond here

People say your independent online news source, Malaysiakini, was instrumental in establishing a two-party system in Malaysia.

Up until recently, Malaysia had a single-coalition government ruling party in control since the country became independent in 1957.  2008 was the first time, the ruling party lost a two-thirds majority: they won less than two-thirds of the total seats in the Federal system. They also lost control of five states. It was the biggest defeat ever for the ruling party.

The evidence shows that Malaysiakini and the Internet played a major role in generating the political change in the country. Obviously it’s not just us doing this work, however. There are key political parties that formed over the last ten years. Civil society has grown and played a major role. Yet most people agree that without the opportunity of the Internet, that change would not have happened. The Prime Minister himself, after being asked what he thought went wrong, said his single biggest mistake was to underestimate the power of the Internet.

In Malaysia, Malaysiakini is by far the biggest online news organization. We have covered practically every major story in the country for the last 10 years. We’re also the most popular online news source in the country: we’ve now reached 2.5 million readers per month. We are published in four languages: English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, which are the four key languages in Malaysia.

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