Eclectic Curiosity

IdeaCity Friday

Posted on June 23rd, 2006, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak described her patented ecological burial technology/process Promesa Organic AB. It’s a an option other than traditional burial and cremation that dries a deceased body, shakes it into grains, removes the metals and deposits it into topsoil where it will more easily move back into nature. Quite an interesting option that is apparently becoming accessible and affordable for existing funeral homes to adopt. In introducing the eco-friendly approach, she nicely summed up (in her lovely Swedish accent) collective movements of responsibility this way: “Society is you and you and you and I and a bit more.”

Moving from death to either perpetual/continued life or altered/improved life, the following speakers discussed cryonics and transhumanism respectively. This is fascinating and scary stuff loaded with both innovation excitement and serious ethical concerns. Tanya Jones COO of cryonics firm Alcor spoke of people – just over 100 worldwide so far – “donating their bodies to science fiction”. The freezing process is still an experiment, she reminded, and has no revival process in place just yet but in the short-term improved organ transportation (for transplants) will most likely be the first achievement. … James Hughes of the World Transhumanist Association gave a great overview of the many varied ideologies, ethics, technologies and practicalities involved with cyborg developments. Truly mind-opening (no pun intended).

And from that we then heard from medical historian Edward Shorter. In 20 minutes he raced through a short history of sexuality, why the brain loves sex, and how the three orientations have actually converged.

Dentist Cameron Clokie and acclaimed ophthalmologist William Tsiaras both showed impressive videos of surgical achievements in their respective fields. Clokie demonstrated the use of a time, pain and cost saving off-the-shelf “biobone” material and Tsiaris discussed the advance in techniques correcting cataracts and presbyopia (the loss of lense adaptation over time). Must admit I couldn’t watch much of the latter. Following those two was Tsiaris’s brother Alexander who blew away the crowd with a demonstration of human body imaging using cutting edge visualization technologies. Both beautiful and useful. And the really cool thing is that he and his group Anatomical Travelogue share all of their images, videos and animations freely at – a Webby award winning site.

Opera Atelier co-founders Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg discussed Baroque opera, ballet and singing. An insightful point that Marshall made was that live events are a remedy to boredom and depression, two traits that have become unfortunately prevalent in Western society. “We’ve created a nation of voyeurs; people who don’t live but who watch.”

We witnessed a live performance by the late great pianist Glenn Gould. Of course, he was not present in the flesh but a technology developed by John Q. Walker at Zenph Studios played his variations mechanically on the grand piano, exactly replicating and even improving the original recording. The technology is an answer to the question “What would it take to sit in the room as Glenn Gould played again?” and the challenge of reconciling old recording technology of the past with advanced listening techniques of the future. “Performance is now a renewable resource.”

Co-founder and president of RIM (the inventor of the Blackberry) Mike Lazaridis stressed the importance of investing in research – particularly that of our universities and colleges.
1. Fund the best researchers and fund them well.
2. Fund their labs to bring them here (Canada).
3. And fund their students.

We were then entertained with some chocolate yoga, a demo of super cool gadgets by futurist Gregory W. Harper, and the comic tunes of Montreal’s Bowser and Blue.

Science fiction author Spider Robinson, who has just recently finished an unfinished book by Robert Heinlein called Variable Star, lamented the lack of vision and ambition from governments. In particular, he criticized the diminshing NASA dream and how its budget cuts have in turn contributed to science fiction’s shrinking audience and market. His main point was that mankind is “gnawing this earth bare” and urgently needs to send humans out to explore the moon, the asteroids and other planets and solar systems.

After Spider was John Howe, a fantasy fiction illustrator and lead conceptual artist of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies. He delivered a modest and low-key defence of drawing. It’s not taught in schools and too few of us do it as adults and just as being unable to write not being able to draw is severely limits one’s ability to breathe life into ideas and to communicate them with others.

Besides a stirring performance of Carmen by ballet dancer Victoria Tennant, pianist Robert Kortgaard, flamenco guitarist Jorge Miguel, ballerina Ronda Nychka and mezzo-soprano Jean Stillwell, the final speaker of ideaCity 2006 was the infamous Lord Conrad Black. Despite surely having some ideas or wisdom to impart, he just sat in a chair and rambled on a self-defence (he’s not rich, he’s not committed any crimes, he’s never spoken badly of others as they do him). While amused by Black’s way with words, I felt that giving Black the “keynote” placement diminished the purpose of the conference and was one of the organizers’ only missteps.

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