Sunday, September 16, 2007

Loueyville Special Edition: IdeaFestival 2007-- Big Brains Invade Louisville

At the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there’s that wonderful moment when, after witnessing the Whos’ selflessness and love in the face of adversity, the Grinch is reformed. And his little red heart grows and grows (three sizes) and finally bursts the cartoon x-ray screen.

This weekend my cartoon brain (symbolized by a lightbulb or maybe a complicated drawing of gears and bolts) exploded. Or perhaps I should phrase that in the passive voice: my cartoon brain was exploded by the 2007 Idea Festival, a three days of events here in Louisville featuring some of the Biggest Brains from all over the world.

I was like a little kid when I got the email from the Courier-Journal a week or so ago telling me that I’d won a drawing for a free all-access pass to the Idea Festival. I’d (surprise, surprise) put off getting tickets to the events, many of which were free, so long that most of them had sold out. Not to mention that the keynote event, a night with Ray Bradbury, was out of my price range at $75 a pop. I quickly emailed them back and said I wanted a ticket for every event on Saturday, and every event after school on Thursday and Friday. And then I spent the remaining days before the opening of Idea Festival in giggly, nerdy, woo-hoo anticipation of the Festival.

That Louisville is the host of this event (this is its second year in Louisville; it spent its three incarnations in Lexington) is extraordinary. You’d expect this kind of gathering of diverse, cutting-edge thinkers in a “world class” city like NYC, LA, or Chicago. The Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation (a 20 year old institution) nurtured this event and Idea Festival founder Chris Kimmel has grown the event so that this year there were more than 15,000 tickets sold. Most events took place at the Kentucky International Convention Center which looks like crap from the outside, but is well appointed inside.

This year’s title sponsors, the Geek Squad, were ubiquitous in their pocket-protectored, penguin-Beetle driving, cheeky “Agent #”-named glory. Karen Walker, New Zealand fashion designer focused her speech not on “The Meaning of Fashion,” as was advertised, but on the importance of “branding.” I tell you, Geek Squad has it down for their audience. Perhaps not the true techno-geeks, but the wanna-bes like me. (Nice to note that the web page homepage features a photo of a female geek. Seemed like there weren’t many She-Geeks in attendance. Geek Squad had a Geek Squad Beetle on display in the lobby of the convention center—wish I had a picture—and on it you were supposed to post sticky notes with your Big Ideas. I stopped myself from posting “Hire more Girl Geeks!”)

Before I get into individual events, my general thoughts:

  • I wish it had been longer. I wish I had taken a day off to do all the Thursday or Friday events. I probably could have gotten a “professional day off” to do it. But come Saturday night, I was genuinely sad to not have any more Ideas to enjoy.
  • IdeaFestival sponsored a Middle School Science show on Friday. I didn’t get to attend. I did see a total of six of my students at the Fest, but I wish more had taken advantage of it. Wouldn’t it be great to somehow get more kids involved? I might keep that in the back of my head for next year.
  • Events like Ray Bradbury and Dan Gediman and Nicholas Kristoff (who I missed) did a great job opening up the event to Humanities folks; more should have been there. Even the most science-y presenters like Michio Kaku and James McLurkin made their far-out science understandable to the pedestrians.
  • I wish I’d bought an Apple laptop when I had to buy a new laptop last summer. Again, it’s that stupid branding thing again, but there were so many anti-PC jokes among the presenters that I felt like a grandma. On a purely practical level (probably the ONLY practical level), my website would have made me happier—Apples web design tools are great. Sorry that the website has gone kablooey, by the way. I’m working on it. I just wanted to be one of the cool kids in on the “in jokes.” No doubt some of the Apple-centricity of the event was because Steve Wozniak was one of the guest speakers.

    On to the individual events! (Note: it will probably take me a couple of days to post all of the events, so bear with me!)

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