Lectures for a New Year: Third Week in Review

For the month of January I’m bringing you a great lecture every weekday. This week I picked my favorite TED Talks -- and got some great suggestions for more! In case you missed one, here’s a review of the lectures posted this week.

How to Enjoy Classical Music

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and a hell of a speaker. He’s funny, engaging, and adorably English — exactly the sort of speaker who commands and rewards attention. In this twenty-minute talk, he barrels headlong into a brief explanation of classical music, how it works, and how we — the great non-classical-music-listening masses — might actually enjoy it, even if we’re weeping in the process. This lecture made me laugh and cry in equal measures — bravo, sir.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Turning Squares into Diamonds

Today, a lecture that’s funny and a bit geeky around the edges. In this talk, adman Rory Sutherland tells a series of funny anecdotes about history, advertising, and the perception of value. That may not sound entertaining, but it really is — it’s a rollicking good time, and it’s really smart stuff, without going over anyone’s head. Alternating between historical examples and modern ones, Sutherland pokes fun at trends (for example, calling a shared plate of pub fries “Food 2.0?), but eventually gets to the heart of his point: advertising is largely concerned with creating intangible value, which actually is valuable, despite being highly notional. Further, intangible value (and thus enjoyment, or a sense of wealth) can be found in things you already have — you just have to look for it.

The most hilarious part of this talk comes around the 13-minute mark, when Sutherland shows focus group footage of people eating Shreddies, a square Chex-like cereal that was in the process of being rebranded by rotating it 45 degrees to make “diamonds.” Wonderful.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Temple Grandin on Autism

This is a TED classic: Temple Grandin explaining what it’s like to be autistic, shortly after the release of a movie based on her book Thinking in Pictures. In the book and in the talk, Grandin explains how her cognitive experience as an autistic person differs from that of an average person (let’s not say “normal”). Grandin’s brain is very visual, and that has helped in her animal husbandry work — she can think as an animal presumably thinks, and because of that, she’s uniquely situated to understand why animals behave as they do.

Read more and watch the lecture.

How Schools Fail Creative Kids

Sir Ken Robinson is an educator (a former professor) who believes that the fundamental principles we use to educate our children are wrong. In this talk, he lays out a series of anecdotes (most of which are hilarious) about education, kids, and how we’re doing it wrong. This is a terrific talk for parents, educators, and kids themselves — have you ever felt that school didn’t nurture your creative instinct? I sure have. If you’re like me, you’ll find this talk instructive.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of iconic books including Blink and The Tipping Point. He has a formula for most of his work: find a core assumption about the world that everyone assumes is correct, then prove that the opposite is actually correct. (For example, in Blink one assumption was that rigorous, detailed study of something like a work of art would lead to the best determination of whether it was a forgery; but it turns out that the best forgery detectors in the world actually operate on gut instinct that happens in a flash…or do they? You see how this works.) This Gladwell Inversion makes for really interesting reading (I thought Blink was terrific), and when he tells anecdotes, it’s riveting stuff — the man is a veritable Teachable Moment Machine, full of stories that lead to lessons. To wrap up our week of TED Talks, here’s my favorite Gladwell TED presentation.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Up Next

RSA Animate and possibly some regular old video of speakers at RSA Events. The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce) holds events that are a bit like a British TED. Their online lectures are engaging, brief, and smart. I'll pick my favorites (including several fan favorites already suggest), and you can enjoy some smart, fun, bite-sized talks.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out! (And many thanks to the readers who have already sent in suggestions — many of this week's TED Talks were suggested by readers. Thank you!)

Pop Culture
5 Classes You Can Take With Celebrities

Traditional wisdom says that in order to become the best, you should learn from the best. Whether you’re trying to perfect your tennis serve, write a play, or launch your own fashion empire, here are helpful classes, tutorials, and learning programs offered by some of the most famous names in the business.


Chef Dan Barber
Chef and restaurateur Dan Barber
Rob Kim/Getty Images

At the New York Culinary Experience, aspiring chefs can spend an entire weekend stirring, sautéing, and seasoning their way to culinary greatness alongside some of the food industry’s most famous figures. Hosted by New York Magazine and the International Culinary Center, the event offers participants the chance to take classes with star chefs, participate in Q&A sessions with key food industry players, and hobnob with other gourmands.

Last year's event featured hands-on tutorials by Blue Hill at Stone Barn’s Dan Barber, Nobu executive chef Ricky Estrellado, and chocolatier Jacques Torres. Dates for this year’s New York Culinary Experience haven’t been announced yet, nor have guest chefs or ticket prices. That said, sharing a kitchen with figures like Barber, Estrellado, and Torres doesn’t come cheap: Last year’s attendees paid $1695, a fee that included four classes, meals, and private closing receptions on both days.


Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg
John Lamparski/Getty Images

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention MasterClass, the digital education platform that connects internet students of all skill levels and interests with celebrity “teachers” like comedian Steve Martin, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, or country star Reba McEntire. The virtual “classes” cost $90 and include streaming videos and reading materials.

All videos are pre-recorded, but participants can seek feedback from their classmates in an online forum or in comment threads. Occasionally, they're given the chance to receive direct critiques from their famous teachers (although it's unclear how often it happens). To bridge any communication gaps, instructors hold "Office Hours," in which they post online answers to select student questions.

Not interested in writing jokes, composing award-winning movie scores, or singing about souped-up Chevys and broken hearts? Brand-new MasterClass course offerings are currently in the works, including a fashion course taught by designer Diane von Furstenberg; a dramatic writing class by David Mamet; a photography course by Annie Leibovitz; and an architecture/design course taught by Frank Gehry.


American comic book writer and editor Danny Fingeroth
Marvel Comics writer/editor Danny Fingeroth and Stan Lee.
Mat Szwajkos/Getty Images

For years, Danny Fingeroth worked at Marvel Comics as the group editor of the company's Spider-Man book line, and wrote issues of The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man, Avengers, and other comics. He has also written books about comics and graphic novels, including an upcoming biography of Stan Lee. Amid his busy schedule, Fingeroth takes time to teach aspiring comics writers.

In addition to lecturing at universities and museums, he offers online writing classes for up to six students, and provides one-on-one tutorials via email or phone. Fingeroth’s next online class begins on November 5, and the registration deadline is October 15. It’s six weeks long and costs $450. As for individual classes, they’re available upon request, and prices are determined on an hourly or per-project basis.


Tennis Player Andre Agassi
Tennis Player Andre Agassi
Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Tennis player Andre Agassi retired in 2006, following a 21-year career that saw him win eight Grand Slam tournaments and a 1996 Olympic gold medal. Today, the athlete runs an education nonprofit, the Andre Agassi Foundation, and he recently took time to do his own teaching, teaming up with learning platform Udemy.com to share his secrets to a successful match.

The online course costs $10, marked down from its original $100, and includes one hour of on-demand video lectures. Agassi walks viewers through his signature moves (including his famous return of serve), shares his go-to drills, and explains his mental strategies for staying focused and in control on the court. The course is recommended for advanced-beginner and intermediate tennis players, but anyone with a computer or mobile device with internet connection can technically follow along.


The cast of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" performing onstage.
The cast of Hamilton performing at the Grammys.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Dreaming of making it big on Broadway? Before seeing your name in lights, you’ll need to fine-tune your dance moves, perfect your auditioning skills, and train your voice to hit all the right high notes. That’s where the Broadway Artists Alliance comes in: Located in New York City’s Theater District, the performance arts training center hosts master classes for advanced students, taught by Broadway performers, casting directors, and Tony Award winners or nominees.

Classes are often themed and range in technique from monologue performance to scene study and song interpretation. Upcoming classes include a half-day session with Hamilton actor Thayne Jasperson and an Anastasia-themed full-day class for young actors taught by Christy Altomare, star of the same-titled Broadway musical.

To enroll in a master class at the Broadway Artists Alliance, you’ll need to apply online and submit a headshot and resume. Half-day classes typically cost $175, and full-day classes (which are typically recommended for students 21 and younger) cost $250.

YouTube // TED
What Happens When You Reply to Email Scams
YouTube // TED
YouTube // TED

Comedian James Veitch took it upon himself to do something I think we all consider sometimes: He started responding to email scammers, stringing them along.

When scammers emailed him with shady business propositions—offers of gold, or bizarre inheritances—Veitch replied, expressing interest, or in some cases critiquing the specifics of the business idea. And, predictably, things got weird.

In this hilarious TED Talk, Veitch walks us through the experience, showing just two email exchanges from his three years of correspondence. Enjoy:

For a complete transcript, check out Veitch's TED Talks page.

This is apparently just part of a much larger project called The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everyone with an Internet Connection, which Veitch began performing in 2014. He later wrote up the experience in a book called Dot Con.

With that, I leave you with Veitch's instant-classic signoff: "Bonsoir my golden nuggets; bonsoir."


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