LONDON — Transparent concrete? Bitter feuds between European wooden-pallet regulators? Uses for the potato in 1940s Denmark?
These were just some of the topics explored in-depth Saturday at the seventh annual Boring conference, a one-day event in London's Bloomsbury neighborhood that its organizers say is about celebrating the trivial, the seemingly uninteresting and the arguably entirely pointless.
"Boring is for people who like TED talks, except we're the opposite. Whereas TED has fantastic speakers who will probably change your life, this event is not going to change anything," said James Ward, Boring's founder, referring to the video series that features experts in business, education, science and various creative fields.
Still, despite Ward's tongue-in-cheek insistence that Boring was a complete waste of money — tickets cost about $30 — and that there were any number of better ways spend the day, a few hundred people showed up for the sold-out forum.
As advertised, it was tedious, lacking in variety and absurd in a charming, funny and insightful way — a brief antidote to a Britain obsessing over its impending departure from the European Union, an election on June 8 that will almost certainly return incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government to power with a large majority, and the health of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, both in their 90s. The latter, 95, said this week he would retire this fall.
He was followed on stage by Zoe Laughlin, director of the Institute of Making, a materials research group at University College London. Laughlin spoke at length on her relationship with concrete. "It floats. I don't have any water to prove it," she said, holding up a sample of the substance.
Liam Shaw, a PhD student in computational biology, gave a brief history of the pallet, the flat wooden structure that holds goods moved around by forklifts.
Shaw speculated that the pallet may be the single most important object in the global economy and estimated that there are about 4 billion of them around the world.
"Everything you are wearing today probably came on a pallet," he said, addressing the audience. He said that "counterfeit pallets are a thing — particularly from Ukraine." He showed slides that documented disputes over quality between organizations that regulate pallet use in the EU.
Shaw's favorite pallet — the Euro Pallet — has 78 nails, 11 boards, 9 blocks and can carry 3,300 pounds in weight, yet only weighs 55 pounds itself, he said.
"It's not really a topic that brings the boys to the yard," said Claire Thomson, speaking about her area of expertise: Danish public information films 1935-1965.
In addition to revelations about Danes and their potatoes, she shared footage — all Scandinavian — about how bricks (as in sun-dried clay) are made.
Louise Ashcroft, an artist who has previously delivered TEDx talks — a TEDx talk is a TED talk 18 minutes or under — provided interpretations of a shopping catalog published twice a year by the British retailer Argos. It contains thousands of items over hundreds of pages and is similar to the Sears catalog that was described in 1943 by Sears News Graphic, an employee newspaper, "as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living."
Ashcroft described Argos' catalog as "the most important archive of design history that tells us what British people aspire to and want to buy from taxidermy to multi-colored lawnmowers to stretchy gym equipment ... It's quite important to me ... and a window onto another world."