BIL conference
The Queen Mary; Bill Gates speaking at TED 2010

In this age of digital communication, sometimes we long for the good old days of face-to-face brainstorming.

That's the engine driving the popularity of today's cultural conferences--sojourns in which movers and shakers give jazzy PowerPoint talks about everything from the global water crisis to poetry. The most famous conference is TED (for technology, entertainment and design); its 18-minute videos are YouTube classics.

But TED, which takes place in Long Beach starting today, costs $7,500 to attend and has long been sold out. That's why we're excited to learn about BIL, the upstart (and unaffiliated) gathering that since 2007 has been taking place alongside TED. BIL runs March 2 through 4, costs only $50 to $100 and has less marquee (but still groovy) speakers than that other conference. This year's lineup includes a space explorer who was on James Cameron's deep-sea crew, a skeptic of the paranormal and a gerontologist researching vastly lengthened life spans.

Plus, BIL has a cool venue in the docked Queen Mary. And come cocktail time, members of BIL have been known to sidle up to TED speakers--this year, graphic designer Chip Kidd, ethnobotanist Wade Davis, oilman T. Boone Pickens and more--for idea exchanges that are most excellent.

BIL, The Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach; BILconference.com

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