What does an eclipse sound like? Plus: Progress in the fight against anonymous companies, life after prison, and much more

As usual, the TED community has lots of news to share this week. Below, some highlights.

Hearing and feeling an eclipse. An eclipse is a visual phenomenon, difficult to describe, but what if you can’t see it for yourself? Dr. Henry Winter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics partnered with The National Center for Accessible Media to design an app for the visually impaired. Dubbed the Eclipse Soundscape project, the app will provide real-time audio descriptions of the event, so that this cosmic event can be enjoyed by everyone. Afterward, recordings of wildlife activity will be available — nocturnal species are roused during the event, and the eclipse’s end creates a “false dawn.” There’s also a “rumble map,” which translates light intensity into touchscreen vibrations, rendering the event readable via fingertip, like braille. TED speaker and sonic astrophysicist, Wanda Diaz Merced, who is blind herself, served as a consultant on the project. (Watch Merced’s TED Talk)

Something both parties can agree on. Partisanship has separated the US Congress like oil and water. But TED Prize winner Charmian Gooch and her watchdog nonprofit Global Witness note on their blog something bringing everyone together: the push to end anonymous companies. The House Corporate Transparency Act has strong bipartisan support — and a matching bill was introduced in the Senate this week. Bills are also circulating that would require the disclosure of ownership for all airplanes seeking registration with the FAA, and for all companies bidding on federal defense contracts — an issue explored on Ideas.TED.com earlier this year. Finally, after a USA Today investigation revealed that Donald Trump has sold 28 properties since election day for $33 million — with about 70% of those buyers being anonymously-owned LLCs (compared 4% two years before) — Maxine Waters has introduced a bill to curb this. The “SHELLs Act,” supported by Global Witness, would require the President and all other Executive branch officials to disclose the individuals behind their real estate transactions. (Watch Charmian’s TED Talk)

Science to the rescue! TEDsters from both sides of the stage came together this week as part of Manoush Zomorodi’s new installment of “Note to Self.” In conversation with David Biello, science curator here at TED, Save the Planet! explores the potential that science and technology may have to rescue our planet. Spread over five 10-minute episodes, you’ll be introduced to America’s love affair with AC, vacuuming out CO2 and even inspirational whale poop. (Watch Zomorodi’s TED Talk)

The future of batteries. New research out of MIT might bring us one step closer to the future of batteries. Lithium-air batteries have the potential to pack more power at a fraction of the weight of current lithium-ion batteries, but scientists still need to work out a few charging and efficiency kinks. The compound lithium-iodide (Lil) has the potential to solve these problems, however, the results from experiments using Lil have been contradictory. To get to the bottom of it, Paula Hammond and a team of scientists ran a series of tests to home in on the particular reactions taking place. They found that Lil enhances the reactivity of water, which ultimately depletes the battery’s ability to charge, perhaps indicating that an alternate compound should be used. While there’s still a long way to go, continued research that addresses these very specific challenges will help us get there. (Watch Hammond’s TED Talk)

Life after prison. Plenty of documentaries and TV shows take us inside prison walls, but that’s not where the story ends. Oprah Winfrey’s new docu-series, Released, takes viewers along with six newly freed individuals for their first 90 days back in society—the ups, downs, and everything in between. TED speaker Shaka Senghor is a consulting producer on the show. It’s a subject close to his heart: he went to prison at 19, where he turned his life around by reading and learning; upon his release at age 38 he became an activist. (Watch Senghor’s TED Talk)

An architect’s plan to preserve and modernize. Architect Aziza Chaouni was awarded a Keeping It Modern grant from the Getty Foundation to create a preservation plan for the Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Complex in Morocco. Dating from the the late 1950s, only certain parts of the baths remain open to the public today. However, the Fondation Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion (CDG), which owns the baths, is committed to revitalizing them and restoring them to their full functionality. Chaouni, whose credits include restoring the world’s oldest library, will help CDG accomplish their goal by preparing a preservation plan to guide their efforts, which will help them improve the facilities while preserving their architectural significance. (Watch Chaouni’s TED Talk)

Have a news item to share? Write us at contact@ted.com and you may see it included in this biweekly round-up.

Featured Image Credit: Arne Danielson.


A sobering new video from Beverly and Dereck Joubert on World Lion Day

Documentary filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert have worked to conserve wildlife in Africa for more than 30 years. Last year, I visited the Jouberts in one of the Great Plains safari camps and preserves they founded: Great Plains Conservation, launched a few years ago in Botswana and Kenya. You can read about my 2016 visit and their work in honor of World Lion Day.

Another year has passed and I wish I could say that the situation has improved, but lions and other big cats are still a very threatened species. Beverly and Dereck continue to work relentlessly to save big cats in Africa, but their numbers continue to diminish. National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, the sponsor of World Cat Day, is “partnering with some of the world’s leading big cat experts, the initiative funds on-the-ground research and innovative conservation projects to protect our planet’s top felines and leads a global public awareness campaign to shine light on the issue.” You can stay in touch with National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert and receive updates by subscribing to their newsletter.

Today, they posted a video to their Facebook page detailing the decimation of the lion population over the past 40 years.

Visit Big Cat Conservation to learn more about their efforts and to find out what you can do to help. For a list of other organizations to support, visit the World Lion Day website.


Meetings: The ultimate time-suck and what to do about them

When great minds meet, everybody benefits. So, when meetings are good, they’re great. But if they’re bad (as most office meetings are, be honest with yourself), they’re anything but beneficial. You may say to yourself, or quietly argue to this article during your sad desk lunch: “But I am doing work. I’m sitting and talking and brainstorming about work, thus I am working.” Yeah, not really.

As Jason Fried (TED Talk: Why work doesn’t happen at work) points out, “Meetings aren’t work. Meetings are places to go to talk about things you’re supposed to be doing later.”

Or, if you’re not in-person, there’s the hands-free and nightmarish conference call.

Since we can’t escape meetings entirely, how do we stop them from sucking up everyones’ time and space like the work-equivalent of a black hole?


Step 1: Ask yourself a simple question. “Does this [thing] really need a meeting?”

If you’re having a hard time answering that question, here’s a handy infographic that should help you get to the bottom of one of work-life’s most sustaining and existential questions.

Other questions to think about:

Step 2: If a meeting is unavoidable — how do you minimize the inevitable dread for all involved?

“[There’s] this fundamental belief that we are powerless to do anything other than go to meetings and suffer through these poorly run meetings and live to meet another day,” says David Grady.

Which, generally sounds like a special circle of hell that it needn’t be.

In his talk, Grady outlines a few ways to lessen the blunt force trauma to the head that a poorly run, unproductive meeting can feel like. Behold, a 3-point checklist.

  • Do you really need to be there? The answer is maybe, maybe not. Imagine this scenario: A meeting invitation pops up in your calendar. And it’s from this woman who you kind of know from down the hall, and the subject line references some project that you heard a little bit about. But there’s no agenda. There’s no information about why you were invited to the meeting. And yet you accept the meeting invitation, and you go. And when this highly unproductive session is over, you go back to your desk, and you stand at your desk and you say, “Boy, I wish I had those two hours back.”
  • Will an email suffice? Yes yes, the thing that people may despise almost more than meetings are emails. TED Curator Chris Anderson even has an entire website dedicated to saving our inboxes from the ever-rising flood of emails that haunt most professionals’ waking hours. However, there are few sweeter victories than avoiding half hour meetings with a few focused clacks of the keyboard, or even a 5-minute desk / kitchen / watercooler chat (if it’s painless for all parties involved that is, don’t stalk your co-workers, please).
  • Does the meeting have an agenda? It’s important to have an outline that keeps everyone on task and insures that all points that need discussing are covered. If you’re not the meeting creator and you don’t see an agenda, reach out to the person heading it and request bulletpoints on what will be reviewed.

    “Tell them you’re very excited to support their work, ask them what the goal of the meeting is, and tell them you’re interested in learning how you can help them achieve their goal,” Grady advises.

    Agendas are great touchpoints to have if this is a new topic, a project that’s being dusted off, or if it’s the seven-millionth meeting about this one thing and you need some guiding words to navigate this nebulous and redundant path to success. Who knows, in asking for this information often and respectfully, people may be a little more thoughtful and actually include agendas by default in the future.

    (Best case scenario, the person realizes after writing up the agenda that there’s no point in meeting and cancels the meeting. Hooray!)

Step 3: Third meeting in a row? Consider moving outside the conference room. (If the meeting is small, that is.)

Cabin fever sets in probably around Meeting Three (that’s just a guesstimate). And if the meetings don’t kill you, the sitting most likely will.

So, if the option is available to you, take your meeting outside. Suggest a walking meeting prior to your small one-on-one or even get some headphones (preferably with a microphone) and take the call on an outdoor excursion around the block.

A little exercise and fresh air does wonders for you mind, health and productivity — and may even improve creativity, a Stanford study finds. You’d also be among some famous company.

All snark aside, meetings are useful (when done well). But with great power over other peoples’ time and productivity, comes great responsibility.


Mark Ronson makes a cameo, Roxane Gay and Adam Grant discuss the pros and cons of social media, and much more

Please enjoy your roundup of TED-related news:

This one’s for the boys. Mark Ronson takes a break from making music to have some fun in Charli XCX’s video for “Boys.” You’ll find him (suavely) combing his hair, amid scenes of other male celebs, such as Wiz Khalifa, Riz Ahmed and Joe Jonas having a pillow fight or cuddling with puppies, in a video intended to “flip the male gaze on its head.” (Watch Ronson’s TED Talk)

To tweet, or not to tweet? Twitter and Facebook allow writers to promote their work and engage readers—but is it a force for good or for evil? In a conversation with LitHub, TED speakers Roxane Gay and Adam Grant, along with Alexander Chee and and Celeste Ng, discuss how they harness social media without letting it get the best of them. Grant was dragged into the online conversation “kicking and screaming,” but now believes that “it can be a source of energy and a real boon for your career.” Gay loves how Twitter keeps her up to date with new books; she sees more benefits than drawbacks for writers and publishers, and thinks “social media only sucks the life out of you if you allow it.” (Watch Grant’s TED Talk and Gay’s TED Talk)

The race for our attention. When our attention is currency, tech companies work hard to get us to watch that next video, keep the Snap streak going or click on that personalized ad. Tristan Harris warns that while engineers are getting better and better at this, we’re just getting more and more sucked in without even meaning to. Fortunately, Harris shares some advice on how to protect our minds as well as his vision for a more constructive tech future in a Q&A with Wired that builds on his new TED Talk. (Watch Harris’ TED Talk)

Medicine that bridges inequality. TED Prize winner Raj Panjabi discusses his plans with the New York Times to increase access to medical care for those living in rural, disconnected parts of Liberia. Motivated by the idea that “medicine could be a way to bridge inequality,” Panjabi’s nonprofit, Last Mile Health, trains locals as community health workers and provides them with medical supplies such as thermometers, smartphones and even malaria test kits. While his charity is focused on his birth country, Liberia, Panjabi believes that this approach to medical care could have a larger scope, even one that extends to rural America. “Why should anyone die from diseases that others don’t?” (Watch Panjabi’s TED Talk)

Art all around us. The subdued whirr of a computer fan, a plastic bag caught in the wind … can these things come alive as art? Shih Chieh Huang believes so, and his new exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum, “Reusable Universes,” shows his belief at work. Using fans to inflate bags with air, he creates cephalopod-looking objects—lit up and moving, suspended in midair—and controls their movements with an app designed for stage lighting. Sometimes he sees the exhibit as a bunch of everyday items. “But sometimes,” he told artnet, “I think that’s a cell, heart, a lung, a sea creature.” (Watch Huang’s TED Talk)

How can we grapple with historic injustices? Bryan Stevenson adds his voice to an anthology of eleven essays that analyze the history of racism in the criminal justice system, and its contemporary effects on the lives of African American men and boys. Each essayist touches on various stages and symptoms of the system, while making policy suggestions for the future. Stevenson’s piece takes the reader to South Africa and Germany, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and confronting historical injustices in order to move forward. Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution and Imprisonment is edited by Angela J. Davis. (Watch Stevenson’s TED Talk)

Have a news item to share? Write us at contact@ted.com and you may see it included in this biweekly round-up.


5 stellar mini-docs that will make you rethink time

Five mini-documentary films captivated the TEDWomen 2016 audience — directed, written and produced by female filmmakers whose work embodies today’s best and most innovative storytelling. In a partnership between Lifetime and Chicken & Egg Pictures, these short films are artful in the ways their storytelling catalyzes social change and the TEDWomen 2016 theme, “It’s About Time.”

Watch the selected films below and learn more about the award-winning filmmakers behind them.

Lyari Girl Boxing

About this film: In Lyari, Pakistan—called “the Colombia of Karachi” because of the tightening grip of rival gangs and widespread drug culture—a group of female boxers are taking ownership of their fate.

About the filmmaker: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is a two-time Academy Award and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. In the past 15 years, she has made more than a dozen multi-award-winning films in over 10 countries around the world. Her films include A Girl in the River, Song of Lahore, Peacekeepers: A Journey of a Thousand Miles and Saving Face. In 2012, Time Magazine included Sharmeen in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2013, the Canadian government awarded her a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work in the field of documentary films, and the World Economic Forum honored her with a Crystal Award at their annual summit in Davos. She is a TED Senior Fellow.

How Much Is Enough?

About this film: Several American mothers reflect on two key questions: How much extra time would you like in a day? What would you do with that extra time?

About the filmmaker: Grace Lee directed the Peabody-winning documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which Hollywood Reporter called “an entertainingly revealing portrait of the power of a single individual to effect change.” The film premiered at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival and was broadcast on the PBS series “POV.” Her previous documentary The Grace Lee Project was broadcast on Sundance Channel and was called “ridiculously entertaining” by New York magazine. She recently produced two documentaries for PBS: the Emmy-nominated Makers: Women in Politics and Off the Menu: Asian America. As a Women at Sundance Fellow, she is developing a social issue comedy series.

A Mother’s Dream

About this film: An intimate portrait of a day in the life of Collette Flanagan, a mother who lost a child to police violence and now empowers others to demand constructive and concrete systemic change in their communities.

About the filmmaker: Filmmaker, artist and author Michèle Stephenson pulls from her Panamanian and Haitian roots and experience as a human rights attorney to tell compelling, personal stories that resonate beyond the margins. Her most recent film, American Promise, was nominated for three Emmys, won the Jury Prize at Sundance, and was selected for the New York Film Festival’s Main Slate Program. Shewas recently awarded the Chicken & Egg Pictures Filmmaker Breakthrough Award and is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow and a Sundance Skoll Storytellers for Change Fellow. Her recent book, Promises Kept, written along with co-authors Joe Brewster and Hilary Beard, won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.



About this film: This film captures the unlikely story of Sweet Beginnings, a company that employs ex-offenders by teaching them how to be beekeepers and harvest honey.

About the filmmaker: Kristi Jacobson is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of Catalyst Films. Her latest film, Solitary, an immersive look at life inside a supermax prison, premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and will be released on HBO in 2017. She has created films for HBO, PBS, ESPN, ABC, the Sundance Channel, A&E, Lifetime and Channel 4/UK. Her films, including American Standoff, Toots and A Place at the Table, reveal her passion for capturing nuanced, intimate and provocative portrayals of individuals and communities. She’s a 2016 recipient of Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Breakthrough Filmmaker Award, awarded to 5 nonfiction filmmakers whose artful and innovative storytelling catalyzes social change.


The Experience of Time

About this film: This short film explores the history of humans’ complicated relationship with time, deconstructs our obsession with controlling it, and contemplates how to be more mindful of this valuable resource.

About the filmmaker: Elaine McMillion Sheldon is a Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker and media artist. She’s the creative director of the Emmy-nominated interactive documentary Hollow and runs “She Does,” a weekly podcast that documents creative women’s journeys. In 2016, she was awarded the Breakthrough Filmmaker award from Chicken & Egg Pictures. Sheldon has been named one of 50 People Changing The South by Southern Living Magazine, a 2013 Future of Storytelling Fellow, and one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker magazine. She’s a founding member of All Y’all Southern Documentary Collective.