November 8, 2010

Ithaca Ignite!

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“Enlighten us. But make it quick!”

Given 300 seconds (or five minutes for the mathematically-challenged), 20 PowerPoint slides and any choice of subject matter, what would you talk about to a room full of strangers?

Saturday night, Ithaca was once again “Ignited” in a power-packed evening of five-minute ramblings from various individuals with a myriad of interests but who have two things in common: a unique idea and the courage to stand up and talk about that idea.

A mere seedling of an idea that sprouted from the minds of Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis and sponsored by O’Reilly Media and MAKE magazine, the first ever Ignite was held in Seattle in 2006. Over the last four years Ignite’s popularity has grown exponentially and roughly 50 cities worldwide have hosted similar Ignite events.

Dave Cameron, Cresten Mansfeldt and Jonas Neubert, the head honchos of Ithaca’s sect of Ignite, held the first Ignite Ithaca last April with the main goal to share different ideas within the community. It was such a success that Ignite Ithaca is back for another round!

Like any other convention, Ignite Ithaca has some rules.

Rule #1: Drink lots of beer. (It’s liquid courage for the speaker and a social lubricant to help with awkward mingling. And as for the audience, a drunk audience is clearly the best kind of audience — receptive, kind, forgiving and willing to laugh at nervous ramblings and any and all jokes.)

Rule #2: Applause is key. (It’s the same concept as high-fiving, but it’s obviously superior in its ability to pump up the presenter! Cheering and catcalls are also acceptable but can get awkward if overused.)

Rule #3: Each presenter has five minutes and 20 slides to speak. Each slide is up for 15 seconds, so timing is an art form and practice is of utmost importance.

Rule #4: More beer = More applause (See Rules # 1 and 2)

Ignite’s topics were as varied as Ithaca’s citizens themselves. To name a few Rob Engelsman, the station manager of WICB Radio, lead an engaging rant on why radio is “dope” and superior to Pandora and iTunes. Later, a mathematics graduate student, educated everyone on just what kind of thoughts swirl within the confines of a mathematician’s brain on a daily basis. And Hod Lipson predicted a future filled with self-reflective, or self-obsessed robots.

While each presenter brought something new to the table, the final two speakers absolutely stole the show. Hands down.

Lily Gershn promoted Ithaca Freeskool, a brilliant nonconformist institution in the Ithaca area. Based on the premise of increasing the sustainability of education, Ithaca Freeskool brings people together to learn in informal, non-intimidating settings (i.e. coffee shops, parks, libraries, even peoples’ couches.)

Every class is taught by a volunteer with an interest in the subject. There are no Ph.D.s, hall monitors or school bells involved — just an interest in sharing knowledge with members of the community and increasing interest in local issues.

Classes include Bad Romance Dance Academy featuring Lady Gaga-esque choreography, Vegan Baking, Mushroom Hunting, Anti-Authoritarian Games, Basket Weaving and Norse Mythology. Like Ignite Ithaca itself, Ithaca Freeskool fosters community self-reliance and encourages informal learning.

To wrap up the show, Jeremy Blum took the stage. As the only under-aged speaker of the night, Blum proved his worth to Ignite and simultaneously shattered the image of the typical engineer! (You know, the antisocial, bleary-eyed engineers that blink like moles in the sunlight, when they finally emerge from Duffield at 6 a.m.)

Jeremy brought up some interesting issues. Ever wonder what it takes to be an engineer? Is it an unparalleled ability to forgo asleep and stare at a computer all night? Or is the degree at the end of a long academic career worth it?

In our world of disposable cell phones, a decreased interest in computer hacking, and car engines that the average Joe can’t service himself, engineers in the U.S. are few and far between. In a hilarious and informative speech, Jeremy told the audience of his evolution as an engineer and how to spur on education for future engineers. Essentially, we need more Legos!

Anyone is welcome speak at Ignite Ithaca. The only requirement is that you have something to say. And you have to say it in five minutes. All it takes is five minutes to learn something new.­

Original Author: Heather McAdams