By BOBBY MCMAHON
ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 7, 2009) - College student Douglas Stull missed a test to see Ted.
"I told my professor I was going to a conference," said Stull, a sophomore at the University of Maryland Baltimore College studying computer science. He was telling the truth.
On Thursday, Stull and about 600 others attended the inaugural TEDx MidAtlantic conference, which brought together scientists, business leaders and artists from Maryland and beyond to drop big ideas on those in attendance.
Amidst the darkening clouds of high unemployment and nitpicky political spats, it was a day chock-full of bold discoveries and earth-changing ideas, an opportunity to be reminded that smart and passionate people are doing extraordinary things somewhere—even if they are sometimes hard to find.
The first "TED" (which stands for "technology, entertainment and design") was held in 1984. But the conferences rose to prominence in recent years, becoming an online sensation as videos of "TED Talks"—which include presentations from Bill Gates and former President Bill Clinton—were released for free online.
Recently, loosely affiliated "TEDx" (the "x" stands for "independently organized") events have sprung up around the world. The event Thursday, held at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center and the brainchild of Baltimore entrepreneur Dave Troy, marked the first time a TED event came to the Baltimore/Washington area.
Overwhelmingly, attendees said the main draw of TEDx was the cavalcade of eclectic speakers, each of whom spoke for free and was limited to 18 minutes on stage (both are TED standards). Ida Cheinman, part of the team that curated the event, said a combination of a dynamic and engaging delivery and big ideas makes for the best speakers.
"There are people who can get up on stage and recite 'ABC's' and they will be amazing," Cheinman said, "and there are people who might have a really groundbreaking idea they're trying to share, but if the delivery is not there, it might not make the same impact."
The 20 speakers, operating under a general theme of "The Power of Stories," had plenty of both. Johns Hopkins professor and molecular biologist Peter Agre gave the secrets to winning a Nobel Prize (beyond discovering a protein that channels water into cells, he also married the right woman). Will Noel, a curator of rare books for the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, discussed the challenges of conserving a book written by ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.
While many of the talks brought the audience to laughs and cheers, it was the more poignant moments that seemed to have a greater effect.
A hushed stillness fell over the crowd as classical guitarist Ana Vidovic played with dizzying speed and precision. In what amounted to a Sunday sermon on the "essence of egg," organic farmer Joel Salatin said his success was brought about by "injecting sacredness and nobility into every little action of my day."
Mike Zimmerman, 53, wrote down that quote in his program. He found out about TEDx through the social networking site Linkedin, and said that he watched videos from past events online.
"I know TED," Zimmerman said. "I know the reputation."
In fact, many at the event seemed to "know TED," suggesting a personal connection to the event, almost like the one shared by fans of a yet-to-be discovered band or a meaningful book that hasn't found its way to prominence.
I couldn't believe TED was coming, some said. I'm a huge fan of TED, others said.
Perhaps this connection comes from the intimate way most of these attendees have experienced TED until now, alone in front of their computers watching 18-minute talk after 18-minute talk. Perhaps it's the sense of reassurance that—despite the daunting challenges society faces—the solutions are not and will never be beyond the reach of human endeavor.
We can discover ancient secrets like Noel. We can inject sacredness and nobility into daily life like Salatin. We can peer into the innermost workings of cells like Agre.
After the event, Douglas Stull seemed overwhelmed. It had made for a very interesting day, he said, calling it a "feast for the mind."
When asked if the event made him want to explore new things and new ideas, he said it eventually would.
"It just makes my to-do list that much longer," Stull said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.