The Blob

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Terror in the skies again?

I just read a chilling article by a woman who experienced what may have been a dry run to check security and determine the feasibility of assembling a bomb on a commercial airliner by a group of Syrian men aboard domestic flight. Terror in the Skies Again by journalist Annie Jacobsen will open your eyes. Apparently, her experience was not unique. I can only hope that the Department of Homeland Security takes this seriously.

Some good ones for you

The Winnebago Man
: This one is a total gem. Somebody got a hold of outtakes from a Winnebago Motor Home commercial sales video and edited it into a Quicktime movie. Let's just say that the corporate spokesperson has, um, issues. Be sure the kiddies aren't around when you watch this (salty language alert) but it is hysterically funny. You can watch the movie here. Enjoy.

BlondeStar: If you love those GM OnStar commercials, then this spoof is for you. It's an MP3 audio file that you can listen to here. I mean, ya know, it's like, oh my God!


An open letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

Dear Bill and Warren,

If my figures are correct, you are the two wealthiest men in the world. Your success is undeniable. Your power and influence immense. But with such rewards come responsibilities. While no man, no matter how wealthy, can save the world, you have in your possession the ability to be of profound influence and good will. And no doubt, you're hit on by people from all over for a handout. It's little surprise then, that you have to build a wall around your private lives.

I'm not writing because I want a handout. Anything but. I'm writing you instead to pose a challenge. A $1 Billion challenge. I dare you to open your wallets, each to the tune of $500 Million, and put forward a pot of $1 Billion for the benefit of the world.

What I have in mind is that the proceeds of your generousity would go toward a large prize, a winner-take-all competition. Similar to the space race in the 1960s or the race to win the Ansari X-Prize competition put forward by Peter Diamandis, I propose that you combine forces to create a competition to develop an economical Hydrogen separation process to create a clean, efficient source of fuel. From water.

However tricky it may be, extracting hydrogen from a hydrocarbon-rich source such as petroleum is a relative walk in the park compared to extracting hydrogen from water. Physicists will argue that splitting water molocules wastes more energy can can be yielded. But noble minds once argued that the world was flat, and that man would never fly. These arguments don't hold much currency today.

Guys, we have to do something. So long as modern society is dependent on oil, bad things will happen. Worldwide demand for oil is growing rapidly, as countries like China and India grow their economies and naturally seek to modernize their societies. Demand, as you know, drives up prices. And wars have been fought over limited resources. Looking at our national interest, the more beholden the U.S. becomes on oil, the less we are in control of our destiny. And you know who has the largest supply of oil in the world, and the geopolitics behind that. So long as we are dependent on the Middle East for oil, our security is anything but secure.

Our best estimate on the worldwide supply of oil is that supplies are finite and dwindling rapidly. The clock is running. Pollution levels worldwide are rising. We're not sure of whether our climate is heating up or cooling down, but we are sure that pollution is dramatically impacting the world's environment. In short, something must be done.

The upside: water is as plentiful as anything on the planet. So is solar energy. Wouldn't it be nice if someone could figure out how to harness this? Of course we have solar cells, but they could be much more efficient. Here in southern California, the sun shines non-stop. But when you look around, you rarely see solar cells. Why? Efficiency, and the financial incentives to do so. If we could obtain our power from water, wind and sun, the benefits would be incredible. But we have to make it happen.

Of course, we've been saying this for decades. I believe the greatest potential source of global warming is from the hot air spewed by politicians paying lip service to the problem, but without the intestinal fortitude to do anyting about it. Maybe it's time for the private sector to step up and let innovation lead the way. It's time for the two of you to join forces and show leadership on an order that could change the world for the better.

Which brings us to the little issue of money. $1 Billion would catch just about anyone's eye. From a kid with an imagination, to a scientist to a large corporation. It does not matter. The day of the internal combustion engine will eventually come to an end. We are seeing advances in the development of nascent fuel cells as a form of energy generation, with the potential to be used in cars, homes, offices, factories, even PCs. But the day when fuel cells become both practical and pervasive is simply too far off. We need to jump start this. A Manhattan Project or Apollo Space Program of sorts. It will take bold thinking, great leadership and the willingness to provide a prize so large that imaginations worldwide would be harnessed.

Yes, I know. $1 Billion is a lot. Even for you. But think of the benefits. What is the national debt we incur each year because of our imports of oil? How much do we spend to fight pollution from oil and gas? What is the cost of healthcare arising from the effects of pollution? What problems do we invite from terrorism simply because of our dependence on oil? What future global political problems could arise over competition for increasingly scarce oil? I'm just getting started. And what would be the degree of savings we could incur from preventing this? What would be the benefit to society for starting an entirely new industry? What is the price of a life saved? What value would you put to making our nation more secure?

This is a challenge too great to ignore, a prize too large to pass by. Guys, you can't take it with you. So let your legacy be one that eclipses the manner in which you became financial superstars. Let the memory of your lives be one in which you changed the world - again. Let this be your greatest triumph. But please do this. Before it's too late.

Monday, July 19, 2004

I don't believe a word

It's not easy being Lance Armstrong. I can't imagine being a cancer survivor, let alone trying to win your sixth straight Tour de France. On top of the pressures that go with this and being one of the most famous athletes in the world, Armstrong has recently had to defend himself against allegations that he has used performance enhancing drugs as his competitive edge to win.

I don't believe it. Not a word.

Yes, bicycle racing has been rife with abuse of performance enhancing drugs. It has been for years. The late five time Tour winner Jacques Anqutuil was open about his use of drugs to win. Others have suffered for their abuse. Recent Tour winner Marco Pantani was found dead from a drug overdose earlier this year, having suffered a downward spiral to depression and cocaine abuse after testing positive for EPO masking agents while leading the Giro d'Italia.

Today, athletes of all types seek an edge. The demands of a race like the Tour de France are incredible. Winning or losing can depend on your ability to recover from the demands of 100+ mile days riding flat out, often over trecherous mountain passes and leg-burning climbs of 5,000 vertical feet. But drugs are a cop out.

Unfortunately, doctors and teams have conspired to apply endurance-enhancing drugs like EPO in novel new ways, using masking agents to make their presence harder to detect. But testing technologies are keeping pace, even getting the upper edge. Quite simply, if you're doping, it's hard, if not impossible to hide it. For the testing authorities are searching for masking agents in the blood tests of racers as much as they look for enhancing drugs like EPO (to raise blood hemacrit levels) or steroids (for strength). Today, only a fool would try it.

It's especially so if you are Lance Armstrong. Your every move is being scrutinized. If you win a Tour de France stage, or are the race leader, your blood and urine is tested every day. Despite the allegations of the French news media, there has been and simply is no hard evidence that Lance Armstrong is using drugs to win. He was born with incredible genes, a large heart and the amazing ability to not build lactic acid levels that are common to the rest of us under tremendous exercise stress. Oh, and one more thing. He works and trains harder than anyone else in pro cycling. That is how he wins.

Still not convinced? Think of this: Lance Armstrong is a cancer survior. He is one of the few people in the world to look death in the eye. As important as winning is to him, he will tell you that suriving cancer is far more important. He is a role model, and has deep feelings for being an example to many others who bear the unthinkable suffering of cancer. The pain Lance Armstrong endured to defeat cancer is something few of us could ever imagine. So why would he risk having to battle cancer again by taking injections of EPO, amphetimines or steroids?

It does not make sense.

Instead of facts, I see nasty allegations. Instead of celebrating the incredible achievement of a true champion, I see bitter jealousy, predjudice and hatred. To see a man triumph over cancer and win the toughest athletic test in the world should be cause for celebration. Sadly, we see man's worst instincts at play. Shame on the French news media for dumpster diving and digging so low. I can only hope they are shamed by their arrogance.

Instead of looking for needles in hotel rooms, or paying off a jealous competitor to sow trash talk, we could do something much more productive: help fight cancer. Click here to learn how. All of us can be champions.

Thanks, Apple

Earlier today, a friend of mine showed me some amazing new additions to the iTunes Music Store on iTunes, the wonderful and free Apple music app for Mac and PC. If you haven't downloaded iTunes, I strongly recommend it. iTunes is a wonderful way to store your digital music and the companion to the iPod, which, if you don't own one already, you probably will and should. It's that good.

There's tons of great music on the iTunes Music Store (ITMS), which is part of iTunes. And the list keeps growing in terms of breadth and depth. But what really knocked me out was the addition of something completely free: public domain documents, such as the complete 9-11 Hearings audio transcripts and to a lesser extent, the Apple Computer investor conference call.

This might seem a bit mundane. But long after Britney's latest single becomes a Trivial Pursuit question, the historical importance of recordings such as the 9-11 Hearings will continue to be important. Apple is making these free for download, helping to preserve important history. Sadly, it's not well known or strongly hyped within ITMS, or for that matter, by the media at large.

That's a shame. Apple is doing something important for free, which benefits everyone. And to the extent that they can, I hope they continue this in the future. Downloadable music is rapidly becoming a de facto trend, one in which the way music is bought and sold is changing. Over time, we may be treated to being able to access music that you never could find otherwise. But I hope too, that the spoken word and historical artifacts become available this way as well. Looking forward and looking back from the future, we may find that the most prescient and important aspect of the digital music revolution was in how it created an archive of valuable history, easily accessible and available for all to share.

Kudos, Apple!