Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sometimes It's A Big Idea To Have A Bigger Boat

This pix just came wafting in from cyberspace. Don't know if it's a gen-u-ine unretouched photo—or a masterpiece of Photoshop manipulation. In any event, it's funny or, if you happen to be great-white-shark-averse, it's a tad unsettling.

The lesson here seems to be that this out-of-shape guy wearing a porkpie hat and sitting in his dinky 3.8 meter sea kayak perfectly illustrates the IMAGINATION-GRABBING POWER of a picture. It would be impossible to communicate the essence of this situation if you were limited to using words alone. BTW, if you click on this picture you'll get a much bigger, and much scarier, image.

TIP TO PORKPIE-HAT GUY: Keep your fat little hands inside the boat.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pick Your Genius—You've Got Two Hours

It's Memorial Day weekend and New York City is a ghost town. And that makes it a great time to stay here and enjoy the city. Last night, a small group of stay-in-towners had dinner in the backyard cafe of i Trulli, a tucked-away Italian restaurant on East 27th Street. (Try the risotto with shrimp, basil and crispy sage.)

The conversation turned to geniuses and I mentioned my good fortune in getting to spend 44 minutes interviewing Bill Gates in 1990, while researching a book on creativity.

So we asked everyone: "Name any genius from the beginning of time who you'd want to spend two hours with?" The answers ranged from Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha to a Civil War amateur historian who wanted his two hours with Abe Lincoln. My choice was "Mr. Picturing Big Ideas" himself—Leonardo da Vinci.

Da Vinci was, of course, an astoundingly brilliant painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician and scientist. But there were many other geniuses who excelled in those categories during the Renaissance.

What set Leonardo apart was his ability to invent things that no one else had conceived. When inventing his concepts he sketched and described them in his amazing notebooks.

For example, his pictures show a parachute that worked when tested, a defensive war machine that would push away an invader's assault ladders, an air-screw "helicopter," a projector that worked with a candle inside—and hundreds of other brainstorms, all sketched and described. Leonardo's notebooks perfectly illustrate the guiding mantra of this blog: "If you picture it, more ideas will come."

And how would I use my two hours with Leonardo? I think I'd invite him to meet me at i Trulli for dinner. And I'd definitely recommend that he try the risotto.

Then I'd begin by asking him how he develops his ideas? Does the picture come first—or the words? (My money is on "picture first.")

Next, I'd haul out a laptop and explain what a computer can do. He'd probably get it in 60 seconds so I'd ask: "Okay, Leonardo, what kind of uses can you think of for this thing?"

I'd explain the Internet (another 60 seconds) and ask what he'd do with it? Naturally, I'd have a notebook with me—and would sketch and describe his ideas as he created them.

Finally—lingering over our espressos—I'd tell him how many of his 400-year-old ideas were at work today: from the airplane and parachute to projectors, military tanks, and dozens more. It would be one hell of an evening!

REQUEST FOR POSTINGS: Which genius would you want to spend two hours with? Why? And what questions would you ask?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

World Trade Center Towers—With Gold Ribbons

Every amateur photographer deserves one great shot in a lifetime. Well, I've got a lot of lifetime left but I've got my photo. And it illustrates that a "Big Photo," just like a "Big Idea," must be pounced upon. ACT FAST or you can lose it. Here's the story of this photo.

For 25 years I was a private pilot in the busy New York City area. A frequent trip was to fly at 800-foot altitude and go south down the west side of the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty. Then I'd circle to the east and fly north up the right side of the Hudson to pass with my wingtip just 500 feet away from the World Trade Towers. It was always an awesome sight to see those two gigantic gray shapes—it felt as if you could reach out and touch them. Late one October afternoon in 1986 I made this flight in my single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. As I passed the Twin Towers, two brilliant gold ribbons suddenly flashed—for just one second. The beveled corners of the towers had momentarily reflected the setting sun.

I'd flown by the towers well over a hundred times, but had never seen these golden ribbons before. It was a stunning picture, a Big Photo, and I knew I had to go back and capture it. Picking up a Nikon with telephoto lens and a motor drive, I began a 360-degree turn to return to a point where I could see them again. But would the gold ribbons appear again? It would take three minutes to complete this turn and the sun might set one degree further toward the horizon. With the sun's angle changing by just a fraction, would the ribbons still be visible?

To slow for better photos, I reduced power and lowered the landing gear and flaps. By halfway around the turn, my initial speed of 165-mph had dropped to a lumbering 70 mph. I put the Bonanza on autopilot and picked up the camera.

Now I waited for the first glow of gold. There! CLICK… CLICK… CLICK… Thanks to the plane's slower speed I was able to fire off three shots—but when the film was developed only one photo showed the golden ribbons. In years to come I flew by the towers many times, always looking for my ribbons.

I never saw them again.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Big Idea Needed—Early Warning System for Cars

This story gets my goat. A month ago, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was being driven at high speed in an official van—Corzine was in a rush to get to a non-essential meeting at the governor's mansion. The state trooper at the wheel had emergency flashers on and was doing 91 mph on the Garden State Parkway. As the press initially reported the story, a red pickup truck had "drifted off the road onto the grassy shoulder" then "swerved sharply back onto the road." This caused a Dodge Ramcharger in the right lane to move left to avoid the red pickup—and it bumped the side of the governor's van just as it was rocketing by. The van spun off the road and slammed sideways into a guardrail. Corzine, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown around the van's interior and sustained serious life-threatening injuries, including a badly shattered femur that was broken in two places.

Initially, the bad guy was designated as the driver of the red truck. Especially since he had left the scene. But he turned up later and was absolved. I'm guessing that when the red pickup driver suddenly spotted the fast-closing van with lights flashing, he swerved onto the grassy shoulder to get out of the way. Then he began to lose control on the grass and pulled back on the highway to stabilize his pickup. After investigating, The New York Times concluded: "It now seems clear that Mr. Corzine's own vehicle was responsible for the crash."

So there you have it. This accident was caused by a vehicle bearing down on law-abiding traffic at an outrageous 91 mph! How often has this happened to you? You're moving along in the middle lane with cruise control set at the speed limit (oh, well, maybe you've got it 3 or 4 mph above) and from out of nowhere a car, truck, or state trooper whooshes by in the left lane—traveling at least 20 mph faster than you are. Yikes! Where did that guy come from???

How about something in the car that warns you about an approaching "highway missile" five or ten seconds before it hurtles by? I'll start the ball rolling with the video below picturing an idea that might work. If you've got another idea, post it on my blog for the world to see.

NOTE TO GOVERNOR CORZINE: As you know, the femur is the longest and strongest bone in the human body. It also takes the longest to heal. Last Labor Day Weekend, I took an 8-foot fall and shattered the top of my femur in four places. I had surgery similar to yours. It took a full six months for my femur to fully heal. Good luck during the wait—and when you're back in the van, fasten your seat belt and ask your "NASCAR driver" to keep it under seventy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Big Idea In Washington DC Subway

At 7am this morning I was sitting with my cup of home-brewed Starbucks and reading The New York Times. Suddenly—wham!—a BIG idea hit me right in the eye. A story with the headline: "It's Not 'American Idol,' but Subway Station Auditions Draw Crowd in Washington."

The Times article reported that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had been holding 5-minute auditions for an eager group of would-be "platform musicians." The artists ran the gamut from a trumpet-wielding performer to players of traditional Bolivian Andean music. There were gospel singers, jazz musicians, and African dancers. Artists competing for the 50 winning slots lugged along instruments like trumpets, guitars, banjos, electric keyboards, cello, and gourd rattles. The panel of four judges may not have included a cantankerous "Simon" but the article explained they had strict standards. During the first sixty minutes of the 3-hour audition, 30 acts came and went, dismissed with a quick smile and a "Thank you."

Fifty winning acts will be paid $200 for each regularly scheduled two-hour platform performance. Upside-down hats soliciting tips will not be allowed. But the big reason the winning performers want to do this is for the chance to turn a subway platform into a stage—and gain exposure to Washington's 700,000 daily commuters. Ah, fame... sometimes it's the best reward of all.

My congratulations to whoever thought up this Big Idea. There's no question in my mind that it had to be "pictured" in the innovator's mind to bring it to life.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stop Global Warming—The $100 Billion Prize

An overwhelming majority of the world's scientists now agree that Global Warming is frighteningly real—and it's firing on all burners. The warming is caused by a thickening atmospheric layer of pollution, mostly carbon dioxide, that the rich, industrialized nations are spewing into space. Here's what happens: the energy beamed to us from the sun has a very short wavelength that allows it to pass easily through our pollution layer. The world's surface absorbs most of this solar energy and then, for billions of years, has been reflecting some of it back to space as infrared radiation. But here's where our new villain takes the stage: the atmosphere's "dirty space blanket" traps a portion of this infrared energy and recycles it back down to earth as heat.

This phenomenon is causing average temperatures to rise at the fastest rate in millions of years. The result will be horrendous. Hurricanes bigger than Katrina will become typical. Polar ice caps will continue melting and breaking up. Polar bears will be confused and then begin to disappear as their habitat disappears. And, of course, sea levels will rise noticeably. Oh, you can't quite perceive it yet when dipping your toes at the beach—but some scientific studies predict a 3-foot rise in sea levels by 2030. That would turn each of America's east coast cities into a sort of "Venice" with canals instead of streets. And a 3-foot rise also means certain death for a billion or so desperately poor people who live in the world's lowest-lying countries. Some studies predict as much as a 20-foot rise in sea levels by 2100. Tragically, more billions would perish.

But, hell, you already know this. It's probably accurate to say that most thoughtful, everyday citizens of the world know it. (We will pause here to gape with unbelieving eyes at a few politicians in Washington DC who, with their heads buried ostrich-like in the sand, remain steadfast members of a dwindling band of "GWD"—Global Warming Deniers.)

So, speaking on behalf of our abused, gasping, wheezing little planet, I'd like to suggest that we need a Big Idea. And the guiding principle of this blog is that the best way to get Big Ideas is to picture them. Before you run the video, let me explain what "The $100 Billion Prize" is all about. It's cash, folks. HUGE cash. One-tenth of a trillion dollars as a winner-take-all prize to the scientists or engineers who concoct a brilliant Big Idea to dissipate the pollution layer and begin reversing the climbing temperatures.

Who pays for the prize? It should be funded by the world's worst-polluting nations, with their shares calculated according to their percentage contribution to the planet's pollution layer. And it would be an incredible bargain. After all, if sea levels rise by 3 feet in the next 25 years, my home town of New York City will probably try to cope by building a system of dikes and levees around Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. What would you guess that immense undertaking would cost in 2030 dollars? I'll wing a number—$1 trillion. Now, that puts a $100 billion prize in perspective—it's a mere drop in the bucket. And if we earthlings are lucky enough to have someone win it, then the entire planet—not just New York City—is a big, big winner.

If the video inspires you to come up with an idea, post it on this blog. If I like it, I'll crank out another video and sketch your idea for the world to see—giving you full credit of course. You could end up getting more than your fifteen minutes of fame. You could end up richer than Bill Gates. (He's currently worth a measly $72 billion.)