TEDx Waterloo ran its sold out seven hour program of speakers and entertainers yesterday at Kitchener’s Centre In The Square theatre.  NASA’s Chief Engineer for the Mars Project, Rob Manning, capped the event with a fascinating look at the rover landings on Mars.  He declared that their soil sample tests proved that the planet had water on it at one time.  The evidence was thin but the idea was exciting.   We enjoyed three video clips of the NASA team roaring and cheering with each success of the landings and navigating of the rovers.  He drew a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd, and for good reason.  This is mankind at its incredibly daring and intelligent best.

Dr. Mark Greenberg drew the loudest, longest standing ovation.  A pediatric oncologist at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital for 45 years, Dr. Greenberg challenged us to understand the difference between “curing” and “healing.”  Using one riveting story after another, he gripped us with the enormous scars that cancer leaves behind on entire families.  I was especially affected by the tale of Dylan who suffered spine cancer as a young boy.  With a 45% success rate and a high probability of permanent damage, Dr. Greenberg recommended against treatments to the mother.  She went ahead anyway.  Years later, he saw Dylan again at 17 yrs of age.  He was deaf, had damaged frontal lobes, hormone surges that gave him uncontrollable urges to grab women, and was abnormally short. All these years later, his mother looked angrily at Dr. Greenberg. “How could you have let me treat him?”  Dr. Greenberg concluded that Dylan was cured but not healed.  He left us with the question of who should really decide the fate of a patient?  I will do another blog posting on this topic as it was enormous on its own.

Wade Larson is part of an investment group installing HD cameras on the International Space Station so that we can have live video feed of the earth 24 hours a day via the internet.  His video shots of planet earth were fascinating as zipped north-south through Europe and Africa.  Mr. Larson used quotes to remind us that humanity has so much that unites us when we see ourselves from a distance.  I myself have learned that most human pains can be healed when we see events with the right perspective.

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Susan Matt presented her topic of Homesickness.  A professor of history in Utah, she described how our society now views homesickness as “weak,” whereas at one time it was seen as a credible sickness and even a cause of death known as “nostalgia.”   She did a marvelous job of giving an historical perspective on the topic, including the WW1 Army message that not breaking your sons’ bonds with home was unpatriotic!  I would have liked to see more insights on the human causes behind homesickness but she asserted, “That’s for the psychologists to figure out.”

Ashley Madison founder and CEO Noel Biderman shared his insightful statistics from their worldwide base of 17 million married members looking for extra-marital affairs.  Most interesting was the age factor.  Up to age 35, they have an equal membership of men and women.  After age 35, the ratio is 14:1 in favour of men. Mr. Biderman revealed his own age biases when he told of one man objecting that he was not showing up in the datebase.  Upon investigation, they found he was 73 and had limited the database to age 65.  He put a positive spin on the societal benefits of his company’s database to helping research why humans have the extra-marital desire, not to mention that his company is helping to prevent intra-office affairs.  Personally, I believe that facilitating people’s sexual fantasies is not a good idea, but I admit humanity is going to do it anyway at some level.

A couple of the weaker presentations were certainly not for lack of effort or talent.  University of Guelph microbial ecologist Emma Allen-Vercoe gave us insights on the three pounds of bacteria we all carry in our digestive system – so vital for health and well-being. I would have liked to see some insights on how my eating habits or changes in the food chain is helping or harming my microbial health.  Jessica Grahn is a neuroscientist who studies the effects of music on the brain.  Her work with animals was uninteresting but her insights on how music helps patients with Parkinson’s Disease could have been gripping had she gone further with it.

TEDx Waterloo 2013 was well-organized and professionally hosted.  The food was fine, the venue superb and the sponsor exhibits from burgeoning start-ups impressive.  Many thanks to dear friend @HarpArora for making me aware of this event.  I especially appreciated meeting many impressive folks, including Norm Mallach of Primal.com, Nabil Fahel of Communitech.ca, Suzanne Church, horror fiction writer, Melanie Witzell of MadHatterTech.ca, Christine Bird of Cream.hr and Peter Belshaw, angel investor and biotech whiz.

We were challenged to consider some of the most far-reaching efforts of humanity.  You might want to plan on attending next year’s event which will no doubt be bigger and better yet.