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What Tech Should Be Seen At TED? 216

J0sh writes "I've been lucky enough to be asked to do tech spotting for the TED conference, one of the biggest and most exclusive technology, entertainment, and design conferences in the US. Many of the folks there are superstars in their field (like Craig Venter and Stephen Hawking), and most of them have the opportunity to take action on the technology that they see there. The problem is that I'm only one guy trying to find the most mind-blowing technology on the planet in order to inform the few people who can make an immediate impact with it. I figured if there's one place to find those kinds of advances, it's here. What unknown tech is about to completely change the world that these people need to know about? Let me know."
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What Tech Should Be Seen At TED?

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  • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Monday July 14, 2008 @03:29AM (#24178391) Homepage Journal

    What unknown tech is about to completely change the world that these people need to know about?

    You came to slashdot to ask that?

    • Be fair. (Score:4, Funny)

      by jd ( 1658 ) < minus city> on Monday July 14, 2008 @04:11AM (#24178525) Homepage Journal
      I'd rather they ask Slashdot than Microsoft, Google or Yahoo. However, it would probably be just as useful to ask on I Can Has Cheezburger or Cute Overload. (OMG, Ponies!!!)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by zobier ( 585066 )

        I'd rather they ask Slashdot than Microsoft, Google or Yahoo. However, it would probably be just as useful to ask on I Can Has Cheezburger or Cute Overload. (OMG, Ponies!!!)

        Ponies, definitely ponies.

        Robotic ponies.

    • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @04:18AM (#24178551) Homepage

      Things that are going to change the world I think don't need to be super high tech or invented 5 years ago. Personally I predict that it will be the mundane tech deployed in just the right places is what will change the world in the next few decades. Things like commodity telecommunications to the other 90% of the planet who currently don't own a PC (OLPC I feel lacks the velocity and momentum to make a difference, but is on the right trajectory) and recycled cellphones sent to Kenya and Uganda to provide affordable communication capacity for populations there. Projects like this are the cutting edge of this millennium.

      We as humans have invented everything that we need to make this world a wonderful place to live, we just need to learn how to distribute it fairly and use it sustainably.

      Not that I think there is no place for research into new pharmaceuticals and microchips and superconductors etc, but they will bring, at this stage in our history, incremental gains to welfare, and only for the rich. The giant leaps of living standards now will be made by advances in our capacity to deal equitably with each other.

      • by shomon2 ( 71232 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @06:19AM (#24178991) Journal

        Yup - it's the small, simple and readily available things that count, a few ideas:

        * The rollable water container - a round thing that you can roll over to get water with, rather than carrying it on your back/arms/head
        * The little heater with an AA rechargeable battery in it for the fan, that you recharge at the local solar panel
        * The huge and incredible mobile phone informal/illegal repair subculture in developing countries - such as putting 2 simms in the same mobile with a simple switch mechanism.
        * The pot with sand in it, and a smaller pot inside, that uses the physical properties of wet sand to create a refrigeration system for fruit and other perishables at markets
        * The solar furnace - a curved mirror or reflective sheet with a black pot in the middle.
        * The indian project to use harvested stomach bacteria to process recycled food into gas for cooking.

        Loads of this stuff is happening and IT teams are out in the craziest places doing incredible things - these examples above are old, and I could dig out links if needed, but there's 10000 other projects that TED could highlight, even if you just want to talk about software: as well as the IT needed to create information infrastructures around completely non-IT stuff - like (this is more of a developed world example) the simple discussion boards and mailing lists used to power next generation barter/free/exchange systems like freecycle, freeconomy, feral trade and various post-LETS barter systems that are now taking off now that the administrative time-suck has been dealt with. Next step I think, will be project management systems that are just as simple and low-tech, so you can organise say a milk round around it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Kagura ( 843695 )

          I was curious what a "rollable water container" was, so I went out and found this youtube video []. It seems it's a kind of water drum that you pull behind you, and it rolls so you don't have to carry it on your back or something. It's for third-world countries that have to travel somewhere and bring back their potable water.

        • In some outdoor cafes in buggy coastal areas, they have these little "mosquito traps" that silently trap and kill mosquitoes. They have a gas tank that looks like what you'd attach to a gas grill, and I believe they somehow emit CO2 to attract the pests.

          My wife and I recently gave some money to a missionary group going to Uganda so that they could buy and distribute mosquito nets for people there. Devices like this, which kill mosquitoes without spraying chemicals that could be harmful to humans, might help

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by jrboatright ( 843291 )

          Re rollable water container...

          pulled at 3 mph - standardwalking speed over flat but unimproved dirt roads, this puppy lasts for how many hours before the wall springs a leak?

          People carry water containers for a REASON.

          Carts are multi-purpose. Single taskers suck.

        • by vrmlguy ( 120854 )

          Yup - it's the small, simple and readily available things that count, a few ideas:

          Most of the ideas you list are pretty good; they can be built and maintained with local resources. However, I have to take exception to this one:

          * The little heater with an AA rechargeable battery in it for the fan, that you recharge at the local solar panel

          As others have pointed out, solar panels aren't cheap, but I think it is more important to focus on the batteries. Rechargeable batteries don't last forever. After a while, they stop holding their charge and need to be replaced, which drives up the costs over the long term. Yeah, they can be recycled into new rechargeable batteries, but that requires a fairly h

        • * The hand-painted wooden ball in a cup - Toss the ball, catch it in the cup, dump it out of the cup, toss it and catch it in the cup again. The ball is on a string and attached to the cup, so there's no worry if you don't catch the ball in a cup. And clean up is as easy as catching a ball in a cup.

      • We as humans have invented everything that we need to make this world a wonderful place to live, we just need to learn how to distribute it fairly and use it sustainably.

        Except maybe for cheap, efficient solar cells. And a cure for HIV.

        • by Faylone ( 880739 )
          Except for that tech just around the corner that will be obvious in hindsight, but blindside everybody when it shows up, and make the world better
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        incremental gains to welfare, and only for the rich.

        Things that are "only for the rich" invariably trickle down to us "poor folk". I am more than happy to have rich people around overpaying for cellphones, electric cars, plasma TVs, life-extending medicines, etc., funding the research to develop better, cheaper replacements that can then become available to the masses (i.e. me).

      • I think Mid-Tech items will lead to transformations, where the scientific & engineering leaps get commercialized without consumers being aware of the technology...unless they watch TED, read Slashdot and scientific and engineering journals.

        Small & micro sensors and imagers integrated into new devices in unique ways & often operating wirelessly and autonomously use "HIGH TECH" but are easy to miss. They put an incredible amount of knowledge on top of the micro-sized sensing, letting even common

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bzipitidoo ( 647217 )

          Educate and empower the women. Most women don't want to have 8 or more kids, and wouldn't if they weren't being forcefully kept "barefoot and pregnant".

          Most of the human brainpower on the planet is wasted. Advances that change that will have more profound effects than anything else. Could be anything from education for all and stopping brain-stunting malnourishment to miracle drugs that make people smarter (smart pills?), and curb addictive behavior including compulsions to watch too much TV or play to

          • Most of the human brainpower on the planet is wasted.

            So let's gather all that wasted brainpower into a grid, or, ....Matrix..., and use it!

    • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      You came to slashdot to ask that?

      Honestly. If it's truly "mind-blowing" and revolutionary, then how exactly is your average Slashdotter going to have heard of it? I mean, have you read the comments on any science article recently? What about that impressed you with the idea that people here are a good source of scientific insight?

  • Other than Google Video and Youtube, the TED talks have one of the best video players on the web.. except that you can't full screen the video for some reason. I can't understand why you might not have thought this was a useful feature at the time when TED talks were first being put on the web, but surely you use Youtube and have noticed the utility of full screen playback.. add the feature.. I'm sure it's one line of code.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is unlikely to be both the biggest, and the most exclusive, unless it is the only one. Which it may be, since how many conferences are there that focus on Technology and Entertainment, and Design.

    • It is exclusive as in the people who attend/give speeches.

      Biggest as in it probably covers the widest range of topics.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @03:42AM (#24178439) Journal
    • I dunno. Those sort of things immediately jump to mind as "whatcouldpossiblygowrong"

      It sounds a whole lot like those experiments that the Navy did to attempt to increase the efficiency of sub crews by "fine-tuning" their sleep patterns. It worked great for about two weeks, and afterward, the crews went raving mad (but thankfully recovered eventually).

      Pushing the limits of human endurance for non-lifesaving purposes seems like awfully risky business to me. It's no surprise that DARPA stayed well away from

    • I want one at home. With the current prices I cannot lower my AC setup temperature below 80F which makes it even higher (~86F) at higher levels of my house.

      I do not need my house cooled. I need my blood cooled and pumping air out of a coffee pot is more cost-effective than ventilating with cold air the whole house.

      May be I could by one of the grocery packing machines and do it myself

  • Forget about TED. I want someone to bring back Comdex. That used to be the ultimate new technology show. Maybe one day we'll have shows about trade shows of the future.

  • frightening (Score:5, Interesting)

    by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @04:08AM (#24178521)

    A venue with the kind of visibility and recognition as TED shouldn't send out "spotters" who need to ask Slashdot, it should follow some established protocols for finding and evaluating work. And I think the haphazard selection processs is reflected in the quality of the program.

    • Re:frightening (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Another, completely ( 812244 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @04:58AM (#24178721)

      Given the quality of TED conferences, it's not a criticism to say the quality of the process is reflected in the program. The strength of TED is that it shows a broad cross-section of what's out there, rather than the more usual scheme of presenting and reinforcing the interests and prejudices of some clique of "experts" who think they know the subject well enough that they don't need to ask the community at large.

      It's not about having too limited an understanding to come up with something to say; it's about being willing to consider that somebody else in the world (outside your usual group of contacts) might have a good idea that's worth hearing -- and then sharing.

    • Does any one have any idea of the split between innovations that came from "progressive development" versus "eureka moments"? I am genuinely interested if any one has analysed this because I always get the feeling that the really mould-breaking steps forward come from a single bright idea or accident, rather than by diligent work over long periods.

      For example most new drugs are created via formalised, long, diligent process. We need this but it seems to me that no single drug in a long time has had earth-

      • I always get the feeling that the really mould-breaking steps forward come from a single bright idea or accident, rather than by diligent work over long periods.

        I think that feeling is misleading.

        If you look at the history of penicillin, you'll see that it took decades of work to transform the original observation into a workable product. Furthermore, other people had made the same observation before, but what made Fleming and Florey different was that they invested the hard work to actually transform the

      • ... Does any one have any idea of the split between innovations that came from "progressive development" versus "eureka moments"? ...

        Don't know the numbers but I suspect that "progressive development" is interspersed with many smaller "Eureka moments".

    • by valdean ( 819852 )
      On the contrary, I think it's to the poster's credit that he is asking Slashdot. Despite a lot of noise, this community is more tapped in than most. If you don't think so, then why do you read it? On nearly every article, there is an insightful comment -- I read Slashdot as much for the comments as the links and summaries.

      Besides, posting here is one more way of finding emerging tech, and that's his job. I would criticize him if he DIDN'T consider asking Slashdot or any other similar forum.
    • by dubl-u ( 51156 ) *

      it should follow some established protocols for finding and evaluating work.

      You want an established protocol? How about the one called "ask smart people"? That's the one I use when I want to find interesting things.

      Given the discussion here, he may have misapplied the protocol, but you can hardly get mad at him for giving you the benefit of the doubt.

  • few picks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ionix5891 ( 1228718 )

    * firefox (for revolutionizing the web)
    * petrol from algae tech ( great potential there )
    * photonic switch ( see,130061791,339290492,00.htm [] )


  • I think trueknowledge [] is very cool. []

  • Perhaps you could tell them about this thing called the "internet" which seems to appreciate more data, faster. You know, rather than "exclusive" or "let's post a video a week arbitrarily out of our archive".

    Don't get me wrong, I've seen a quite a few of the videos hosted by TED (because new ideas are only worth spreading if they've got a sponsor such as BMW), but seriously, for the rest of us, that might not be able to afford the cost of entry, how about you share the idea of "ideas worth sharing" to an au

  • Coal Liquefaction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @04:43AM (#24178657) Homepage Journal

    If one technology could really change the world, it would be coal liquefaction. It's an 80 year old, proven, technology - that no one has ever heard of.

    What is it? It solves the gasoline crunch by converting coal (which is crazy abundant, especially in America) into gasoline. It throws off energy as a byproduct (which helps solve our energy grid needs) as well as CO2 -- which sounds bad, but can be trapped easily since it is in a closed loop.

    Cleanly converting coal to gas is more expensive than the normal FT process, but still produces gas at around the $2 a gallon level, which would be enough to kickstart our economy, rescue the airlines, save energy costs for poor people (as much wealthy environmentalists hate to admit it, poor people are the ones that get fucked by sky-high gas and energy costs), and produce CO2, which is needed for, aha!, Craig Venter's latest pet project, which involves custom bacteria that consume large amounts of C02, and which he's publicly stated he needs a large supply thereof.

    Best of all, it's a mature technology. It was used to power the entire Nazi war machine in WWII, and South Africans under apartheid. Not because evil countries have an affinity for it, but because they were cut off from the world's oil supplies.

    And yet when Coal Liquefaction was debated in congress, retarded children like our very own Senator Feinstein claimed that it was an immature technology, and voted it down.

    • ?! Amm ... well ... that is kinda stupid. It is well known. We will not run out of fuel for a while. Don't worry about the tabloids. You can also get oil from tar sands by running steam through. The problem with both solutions is that heaps of energy is needed. The Germans got a two for one deal. 2 liters of coal dust give you one liter of fuel. Problem is that the other liter goes up on smoke .. I mean CO2. Now CO2 is a three for one deal. For every KG of coal you burn, you end up with 3 kg of CO2 ... kind
      • >>Problem is that the other liter goes up on smoke .. I mean CO2.

        Which I talked about. There's actually a demand for high percentage CO2 air.

        >>The energy solution you want is nuclear. No emissions.

        Absolutely. For the power grid.

        But nuclear has nothing to do with gas prices, except indirectly, as it will free up more coal to be converted into gasoline.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Why should gasoline be used? As far as I see, electric cars can do the trick. I'm not saying that today but really, we are looking for what to do within the upcoming years and I see electiricity (and thus nuclear) based cars as feasible solution as liquified coal.

          Also I find it interesting what americans think of the gas prices. "Oh no, 4 dollars! Our economy might collapse!". Well, know what? It's 2.5 times as much here in Finland (and most of Europe at that) without economy having collapsed. So could some

          • by FeatureBug ( 158235 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @09:33AM (#24180301)
            Oil is a fundamental commodity in economic terms because changes in its price cause changes, with different time lags, in the prices of all other goods and services. An increasing oil price causes inflation. A severe increase causes severe inflation. It's the price increase, not the absolute price, that's important.

            The oil price has more than doubled in the last year, and quadrupled in the last three years. There has never before been such an extreme, sustained increase in the oil price. This will cause severe inflation, and the economic consequences will be severe.

            This is what's causing all the fuss. The economies of the world are in the early stages of heading into a very severe inflationary recession. Some people go further and anticipate economic collapse, others fear something similar to The Great Depression []. The technical term for it is stagflation []. Investors look for ways out of trouble, but the consensus is that there is no easy way out of this one. Some investors have therefore panicked. Panic is dangerous because it fuels itself, making the panic worse.

            You are not going to see the same impact in Finland because Finland has much higher fuel taxes than in the USA, so the price increase of retail fuels has been much smaller in Finland than in the USA. But recession in the USA, which is the world's largest economy, will be felt in other countries, including Finland.

          • by raddan ( 519638 )

            Why should gasoline be used?


            1. It is easy to distribute,
            2. it is relatively safe to distribute, and
            3. we already have a distribution network built for doing so.

            Liquid fuels in general are therefore worth looking at, because we can easily convert a pump or two at a gas station to the new liquid fuel. Even if this requires some modification of the pump itself, like it would for ethanol, it's still fairly easy to do. This is not to be taken as saying that electric cars are not a real possibility, just that liquid fueled-vehicles are pro

    • Should we consider the airlines worth rescuing? (Again?) And why do you think lower fuel costs will do this?

      Check out the airlines in Europe and Asia. Sure, a lot of them are nationalized. But not all. And most are in much better shape than airlines in the U.S.A. That's with higher fuel costs than their U.S. counterparts. Of course, they don't have to deal as much with security theatre, but U.S. companies are not directly burdened with most of those costs themselves.

      The reality is, the U.S. airlines are in

  • by Potatomasher ( 798018 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @05:16AM (#24178787)
    There have been many breakthroughs in neural networks recently, which allow us to train "deep architectures" (with many hidden layers). This was not feasible with traditional backpropagation. This work by Hinton/LeCun/Bengio has led to a resurgence in the field of ANNs, with some experts now believing general AI to be attainable within the next decade.

    Anyone interested should have a look at Geoff Hinton's Google Tech talk [] on the matter. A very interesting talk for anyone in machine learning. He does a way better job of explaining it then I could. Fast forward to 21:30 for the live demo.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by thermian ( 1267986 )

      The problem with backprop is that its a gradient descent method. That works, but its not really likely to produce the best results.

      More and more researchers are turning to evolutionary computation for neural network training. It's interesting, but its a convergence of known techniques which are both well understood by the scientific community.

      As interesting as it is, it's not new. People have been doing it for almost ten years now.

    • by Pedrito ( 94783 )

      with some experts now believing general AI to be attainable within the next decade.

      I think the next decade is a little ambitious. The problem is the amount of space required to store the data, which is probably hundreds or even thousands of petabytes.

      For example, take the human brain. It's believed to only have about 100 billion neurons, but there are between 1 and 10 quadrillion synapses (~10 for children and between 1 and 5 for adults).

      Whether it's biological or software, it'll require roughly equivalent

      • I think the next decade is a little ambitious. The problem is the amount of space required to store the data, which is probably hundreds or even thousands of petabytes.

        Disk storage follows a Moore's law of 12 months (100% increase every year): []

        From this, it follows that you should have a 1.5 Petabyte consumer-level hard-disk ten years from now, and break the thousand petabyte barrier at consumer level in a bit less than 20 years.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Monday July 14, 2008 @05:31AM (#24178825) Journal

    First, the inflatable satellite dish. [] Second, the six stroke engine. []


    • Heh. And just the other day, I was thinking about 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines, and it hit me that there were probably a lot of other possibilities that could yield worthwhile results. Thanks for the link!

  • by clang_jangle ( 975789 ) * on Monday July 14, 2008 @05:34AM (#24178841) Journal
    You know, like, cold fusion, quantum computers, immersive VR. Stuff like that. I read somewhere all that and more is coming in the next five to twenty years. Oh, and that 110 MPG Mustang that goes from 0-60 MPH in 3 seconds flat. Should be a crowd pleaser.
  • Tin Eye... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spectecjr ( 31235 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @05:35AM (#24178843) Homepage

    The TinEye image search engine [] should be up there - [] - one of the most mindboggling things I've seen in a hell of a long time.

  • New materials (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Micru ( 853431 )
    They are just so cool ! []
  • by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @06:31AM (#24179043) Journal

    Let's get it out of the way:

    I'd like to see a beowulf cluster of Linux servers running Duke Nukem Forever on virtualised copies of Vista, whilst at the same time running a grid/distributed computing program that's testing proteins for possible AIDs/MRSA cures in spare GPU cycles - the whole lot powered by solar cells using a revolutionary optical coating, with the standby generator powered by algae-derived biofuel. The whole system to be owned by the former Soviet Union and housed in a hybrid solar/hydrogen-powered car, driven by Natalie Portman, with room in the back for three Senior citizens from North Korea to sit confortably while playing aforementioned game.

    Oh, and the whole lot has to be available 'within the next 5 years' - as confirmed by NetCraft.

    I'm sure I've missed something - help me out here guys.

  • by catwh0re ( 540371 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @07:24AM (#24179247)
    "Entrepreneurial mycologist Paul Stamets seeks to rescue the study of mushrooms from forest gourmets and psychedelic warlords. The focus of Stamets' research is the Northwest's native fungal genome, mycelium, but along the way he has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas. There are cosmic implications as well. Stamets believes we could terraform other worlds in our galaxy by sowing a mix of fungal spores and other seeds to create an ecological footprint on a new planet." []
  • I wasn't really aware of datamining until a lecture not too long ago, given by a handful of enthousiasts and I was sold; just possible implementations and new approuches to the way we approach data is just mindblowing and is just so freaking cool.
    The subject seems soo specific yet its implemenation in our large databases becomes more important and relevant.

    SQLServer datamining []
    Datamining blog []
    XMLA []

  • by JRHelgeson ( 576325 ) on Monday July 14, 2008 @08:28AM (#24179659) Homepage Journal

    This is a MUST SEE TED issue -
    Jeff Hawkins - Founder - Numenta

    Jeff is the inventor of the Palm & Handspring. He has gone on to start up a phenomenal research company that has figured out how the brain learns, and has adapted it to solve the problem of artificial intelligence. He is close to solving the problem of having computers being able to actually SEE.

    From showing a computer a line drawing of a sail boat, the computer can crawl Google images and pick out actual pictures (clip art) and photos of sailboats from any orientation, from the top, side, rear, bottom, just as a human could. []

  • by wamatt ( 782485 ) * on Monday July 14, 2008 @08:54AM (#24179845)

    Dean Kamen's converting sewage (or absolutely *any* contaminated water) into pure clean water at fraction of the cost has the potential to change the world on a huge scale. Especially Africa.

    He has has spoken at TED before. He is a pure legend. []

    OK he invented it a few years ago, but hopefully its ready for rollout.

  • Definitely cover on-demand manufacturing. Then again, I'm prejudiced.

  • Speckled Computing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by miruku ( 642921 )

    Google [] has more.

  • It ain't cheap, it ain't easy, but it's what they need most of all []

    No amazing doohickey we could give them is ever going to improve their lives if there are gangs, militants and warlords controlling and threatening their stability. If all the life changing technology we donate is stolen and sold off to fund pointless tribal warfare and organized crime, then these countries will never get out of the stone age.

  • When energy is talked about renewables are rightly a star item, but ultimately efficiency is the real winner. Efficiency can generate a negawatt for an order of magnature less cost then new energy sources can generate a megawatt. Payback for low hanging efficiency is on the order a 0 to 3 years. And there is no greener megawatt than the megawatt you don't generate.
  • i think TED should do a talk on how communities can organize local production of energy and food.

    Vertical farming, waste to energy conversion, local grids, etc.

    If every small home owners association were to set aside some land in their community for a vertical farm which doubled as waste treatment / energy conversion and of course solar collection... a lot of standard utility expenses could be offset by large margins.

    imagine if your AC bill was subsidized by the solar array / generator down the street and y

    • I'm with this poster. There are various simple tech inventions that have changed the world outside of the 1st world countries. I'd like to see how these can be applied to the 1st world to change how we live. In many 3rd world areas, it is not by choice that communities choose some technology. How can what they have learned be applied to westernized 1st world areas. A possible example is: if there are filters that can make any water safe to drink in seconds, can't we use that technology to recapture gray wat

  • An update on the progress of Bussard's Polywell fusion reactor by the folks at EMC2 fusion would be a GREAT topic. The tough part would be condensing the back story to fit into the tight time constraints for a TED Talk. This is assuming that they aren't working under a complete news blackout situation.

"Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love." -- Albert Einstein