Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brain Power

A complete guide to Idea Festival 2008

Like Bonnaroo for brainiacs, Idea Festival brings some of the world's top eggheads together to scramble their thoughts. We asked Peter Berkowitz to handicap the field. (All events at the Kentucky International Convention Center, unless noted.)

Thursday, Sept. 25

The Big Jam
8:45-9:45 a.m.
Nine experts on eight disparate topics, and anyone interested in writing a screenplay or time traveling, for example, can participate in any three workshops for 12 minutes each. Already, there's too much math involved for my taste.

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe
10-11 a.m.
Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon and a writer who will be discussing the human brain. If you look at the Idea Fest website, they make a big deal about how she's a woman, and how that's apparently rare in her field. The whole thing made my human brain sad two times over.

Creative Space
11:30 a.m.-12:30 pm.
People will come together in a public space to hear Mark Beasley speak about how art in public spaces can bring people together. Like, heavy, man!

1-2 p.m.
Arguably the biggest rock star is New York Times puzzlemaster Will Shortz, the NPR hunk for the women of a certain age who do crossword puzzles with a pen and don't watch TV. Shortz will lead "a rollicking journey into the world of puzzles." (Yes, these people use words like "rollicking.")

The Rise and Fall of Hyperpowers
Yale professor Amy Chua will talk about a bunch of history stuff like old empires and "implications" they might have for modern times. Sounds like a college class.

Curry Stone Design Prize
4-5 p.m.
Venice Biennale curator Emiliano Gandolfi presents the annual prize for breakthrough design solution, then moderates a discussion about design's potential to improve our lives. Bonus points if he has an adorable accent!

At the Movies
8-9 p.m.
Screenwriter Jack Epps Jr.'s credits include Top Gun and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, as well as episodes of "Hawaii 5-0" and "Kojak." He probably has a nice house and lots of fun stories about the '80s, but could very well have no idea how Hollywood now works in the Internet age.

Friday, Sept. 26

Idling Technology: Solutions for "Greener" Air
7:30-8:30 a.m.
Hey all you morning people, come join Robert Hupfer, R&D director at German automotive components giant Webasto, discuss how to make your car's heating and cooling systems "green." So rise and shine!

The Black Swan
8:45-9:45 a.m.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is, among other things, "a philosopher, scholar of randomness, essayist, risk-management expert (and) former trader," who will be speaking in circles about markets and unpredictability. Try to not sign up for any timeshares while he's around.

Studio Arne Quinze
10-11 a.m.
Brad Pitt and Oprah have bought some of sculptor Arne Quinze's works. Why doesn't this guy have a show on Bravo yet? Additionally, he'll be presenting "a proposal for a transformative project on Louisville's waterfront." Finally, somebody with a plan for the waterfront!

The Science and Wonder of Magic
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
It's Teller, the second-biggest star of the weekend and the silent partner of magic's "bad boys," Penn & Teller. The Joe Lieberman look-alike (with a much more pleasant demeanor) will speak on a topic close to his heart: Why do people like magic?

Proust Was a Neuroscientist
1-2 p.m.
Seed magazine editor-at-large Jonah Lehrer, a 26-year-old Rhodes Scholar and recent graduate of Columbia, will discuss the fact that science isn't everything. Like, art also provides answers, too! Sigh …

BIG: Designs on the Future City
1-2 p.m.
An acolyte of Rem Koolhaas, Bjarke Ingels is an architect known for "wildly experimental pragmatism." With the old lions like Frank Gehry going into their 80s and 90s, this guy's the new wave. It should be an entertaining hour of what-ifs.

Surviving Rwanda
2:30-3:30 p.m.
Immaculee Ilibagiza survived it, wrote a book about it, and now travels the world telling people about it. It is not expected that she will discuss "Gossip Girl" or "The Hills" today, so please do not ask for her opinion about either.

A Question of Freedom
4-5 p.m.
What does "freedom" actually mean? Let's go back to the dorm and let Suketu Bhavsar, Sanford Goldberg, Lori Hartmann-Mahmud and Tiffany Shlain talk over each other. By the end of the hour, apparently we will have the correct answer. (Kentucky Center)

Ninjutsu: The Art of Success
4-5 p.m.
If I'm understanding this correctly, then this is about Ninjas, and how they relate to the business world. It sounds more awesome than it really is, unless you live your life like Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

The "X" Factor: Who's Buying What and Why
5:30-8:30 p.m.
Bridget Brennan discusses how the "X" factor (i.e. women) are making most of the purchases now, which is changing how companies have to fool people into buying crap these days. (Warning: A long discussion about Sarah Palin has probably been hastily added.)

Vova's World
9-10 p.m.
Twenty-one-year-old Vova Galchenko isn't just any juggler. According to Time magazine, he is "the best juggler there has ever been." So this won't be your usual brainiac session.

Movies That Changed Your Life
9:30-11:30 p.m.
The invaluable Louisville Film Society presents a movie chosen by the people from 170 choices. The winner, Stanley Kubrick's Cold War-era satire Dr. Strangelove, will be screened. (Brown-Forman Amphitheatre in Waterfront Park)

Saturday, Sept. 27

Serious Play
8:45-9:45 a.m.
Digital game designer Jane McGonigal will discuss how games and virtual worlds can be developed to solve real world problems, even though everyone knows they'll just be used for porn eventually.

The World in Your Pocket
10:15-11:15 a.m.
Apparently, John Gauntt (and everyone else but me) believes there is a war going on between mobile technology, PCs and TVs as marketing media. I don't think so, guys -- you can try to force me to watch "Dexter" on a cell phone, but it's not gonna happen in the next decade or three.

The Physics of NASCAR
10:15-11:15 a.m.
Here's a topic that won't make either half of America happy! Diandra Leslie-Pelecky is a physicist who will address topics you've been wanting to discuss, such as, "What do you wear to a 1,800-degree gasoline fire?"

Who Helps Who … and Why? The Nature of Goodness
11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
Having read this far, you might assume that just because I am, at times, hilarious, that I am not also a good person. Well, you are wrong. Still, I would be fascinated to hear what U of L biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin has to say about why humans perform acts of goodness … when we do, that is.

The Space Colonization Imperative
1-2 p.m.
Princeton astrophysicist (and Louisville native) J. Richard Gott thinks that we are running out of time to colonize other planets. Is that a bad thing, really? We don't even do things well here -- do we really need to screw things up in space? I mean, seen any Native Americans lately?

Where's The Big Idea?
2:30-3:30 p.m.
This is billed as a bull session of Idea Fest celebs who are still hanging around. What? Thrown together at the last minute? To replace a cancelled event? How dare you suggest that!

Mozart: An Exploration of Genius
4-5:30 p.m.
Dr. Richard Kogan graduated from Julliard and Harvard Medical School, and is a psychiatrist and concert pianist. Hey, I'd rather hear more about him than Mozart! Dude's got skills, yo! (Kentucky Center)

Diavolo Dance Theater
8-9:30 p.m.
They're dancers, they're good, etc. Whad'ya want from me? It's been a long weekend and I'm tired. Enjoy the show. (Brown Theatre)

For ticket prices and availability, go to Note: Free events still require you to get a pass.

c. 2008 Velocity Weekly

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