Category Archives: Chicago

Did, Doing, Will Do.

A thing I did in 2011…. TEDxMidwest

I went to the TEDxMidwest conference in October in Chicago and it was just the coolest thing. A whole day – and more – of “riveting talks by remarkable people” and I got to go for free! I was selected to be part of the ThinkChicago program as part of Chicago Ideas Week, so in addition to going to events at Threadless and Accenture and hobnobbing with folks from Groupon and Google, I got to spend a day at TEDx.

TEDx is a local version of the big TED conference, which is held annually in Long Beach, Cal. The four-day conference been described as “the ultimate brain spa,” which I can imagine is totally accurate, since I was so excited and curious after just one day in Chicago. TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design, and the conference is based on short talks from a variety of disciplines, a diverse audience, and the opportunity to mingle, network, and share ideas with other attendees and speakers alike.

At TEDxMidwest, I got to hear talks by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway), John Hodgman (comedian and Daily Show correspondent), Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit), Wes Craven (director of “Nightmare on Elm Street”), Phil Zimbardo (psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment), and John Ondrasik (lead singer of Five for Fighting), among many others. And it was awesome. The full list of speakers is available on the TEDxMidwest website.

A thing I’m going to do in 2012… Listen to NPR

I went to a taping of NPR’s news quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” this summer when I was living in Chicago. Each week, the show does a segment called “That’s Not My Job,” and the host Peter Sagal asks a famous or semi-famous person about something completely unrelated to their field of expertise. For the show I saw, the guest was former president Bill Clinton. Sagal asked him about My Little Ponies. Clinton called in and chatted for nearly 30 minutes before Sagal got around to asking about the ponies.

I met Sagal at TEDxMidwest in October and told him that I had been at the Clinton taping. “The producers were in my ear telling me to wrap it up because Clinton’s people were furious that the interview was running so long, but he just kept talking!” said Sagal. NPR clipped the interview for the Wait Wait broadcast, but the full interview is available online.

The rest of my family has listened to NPR for a good long time, but I’m just now getting on the bandwagon. I love to read magazines, and listening to NPR is pretty much like reading a great magazine piece without having to do the reading yourself. Instead, someone with a nice voice tells you a cool story and you get to learn things while driving to the grocery store or walking the dog. How’s that for multitasking? And then, after you’ve heard about a great new book or figured out what exactly is going on with the housing market, you can tell other people about it and sound plugged in to the world. Win-win-win.

A thing I want to do someday… Go to TED Global

The TED Global conference is held in Edinburgh, Scotland – my favorite city. I spent not quite 48 hours in Edinburgh in March 2011 and left my heart there. It just felt right. I think I connected to the city because I did Edinburgh on my own. At that point during my spring break, I was traveling with four boys who were eager to experience the Scottish nightlife. Since I was more curious about the cultural and historical aspects of the city, I got up early and spent my time there exploring solo. I loved it – as evidenced by my enthusiastic trip report.

The city has such a fantastic literary history and is home to an international book festival each August. Recently, a mystery artist left sculptures made of books in a number of bookstores around the city – read an NPR blog’s account of the saga of the library phantom.

Anyway, I’m planning on going back to Edinburgh during my travels this summer, but I don’t think I’ll be able to swing the $6,000 registration fee for TED Global at the end of June 2012. That particular trip will have to wait a few years.


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Filed under Chicago, Education, Literature, NPR, Scotland, Study Abroad, TED

ThinkChicago – Day One.

I’m spending a few days in downtown Chicago to take part in a two-day program called ThinkChicago. As part of Chicago Ideas Week, the Mayor’s Office selected 50 college seniors from Midwestern universities to come to the city for a recruiting event to meet business leaders, visit companies, and attend the TEDxMidwest conference.

Thursday, October 13 was the first day of the program.

8:30 am – Chicago Cultural Center

Bagels, coffee, introductions.

I found the three other Notre Dame students who were chosen to be part of ThinkChicago and buddied up with them. Yes, it’s about networking, but it’s also nice to have someone to hang out with. All 50 of us introduced ourselves (name, school, major, interesting fact). Probably 45 of the students are in engineering/computer science/business programs. I go through the Notre Dame introduction and rattle off my undergraduate resume in front of a group a few times a month as a tour guide, but I’ve never felt so out of place as I did this morning. I’m just glad that there are other people who are good at coding and hacking and designing and engineering, because I’m not one of them.

9:30 am – Google Chicago

Panel moderated by Rahm Emanuel.

Google Panel Set-Up

Google offices are cool. Like, really cool. I ended up sitting in the front row in the room where the panel was held, and when Rahm came in, he shook my hand. He actually does have a stubby finger. Long ago, I read something about how he sliced it off in a deli cutter, but I forgot that little piece of trivia until our hands met and I realized that a chunk of finger was definitely missing.

11:30 am – Accenture

First site visit.

After my small group of ten met with a handful of leaders at Accenture to discuss the corporate culture, we visited the Accenture Customer Innovation Network lab. The ACIN is essentially a brainstorming space for companies to come in and play with cool new technologies for retail and CPG – lots of cool demonstrations of augmented reality, QR codes, Facebook/social integration. I was familiar with everything I saw there from my time at Digitas this summer, but it was really fun to see it presented in such a slick and flashy manner. Accenture had planned our visit schedule to the minute, and we had a chance to meet with a recruiter and a recent hire towards the end of our time there.

2:00 pm – Threadless

Second site visit.

T-shirt heaven! We got a tour of the warehouse and the offices of this design-focused company from the creative director himself. Threadless was pretty much the opposite of Accenture, staffed largely by hipsters wearing cool t-shirts and podcasting out of the vintage Airstream trailers parked in the lobby. As we wandered through shelves upon shelves of witty, clever, colorful shirts, all I could think about was which one to choose for my souvenir. And then they didn’t give us free shirts! Huge disappointment. Other than that, it was a fun visit.

Threadless Warehouse

7:30 pm – Chicago Ideas Week Bash

Park West.

We were told that this would be a networking event with live music and maybe a bar. I went over by myself and figured I would meet up with the other ThinkChicago participants when I got there – we were instructed to wear our official Mayor’s Office nametags to get in the door, so I thought that would be a good way to recognize the other college students. On the walk from the El stop to the venue, I psyched myself up to network and act like an adult. I had my black pants on, my black interview bag slung over my shoulder, and a stack of business cards in my wallet. As I walked through Lincoln Park, I realized that I looked like a normal person coming home from work. A couple walking a dog said hi to me. I fit in!

And then I got to the party. I did not fit in.

It was not a networking event.

The Bash was a huge party for Groupon employees. And, I guess, a handful of unassuming college students. I knew nobody, and I was way overdressed. I checked my coat, showed my ID (because I’m 21 now – yay), and showed my mayoral name badge to the volunteer handing out the free drink tickets. I unclipped my badge with a quick glance around at all the flannel-and-jeans-wearing people surrounding me.

CIW Bash Band

The band was like OK GO on steroids – instead of four guys wearing vintage marching band costumes, there were twenty. I tried to make my way over to an area where I could survey the crowd to look for acquaintances, but as I turned from the bar, I got an elbow to my drink, which sloshed nicely all over my satiny top. Fantastic. I ended up chatting with a Filipino New Zealander (Kiwi?) who worked in the engineering department at Groupon. “So you’re like an intern?” Uh, kinda. Not really.

I left after about an hour. The Bash would have been really fun if I had known anyone there or if it had been the slightly more networking-oriented event I was expecting, but either way, it was definitely quite an experience.

On to Day Two – TEDxMidwest!

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Filed under Chicago, Notre Dame