Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stupidity on Steroids

Maybe it is just me, but the outrage and ruckus about the Mitchell report and steroid use in baseball is laughable. Did people really think US athletes being paid tens of millions a year for athletic performance weren't using illegal substances? Did they think that baseball, experiencing a resurgant popularity after the strike mostly because of the home run records, would be incentavised to effectively monitor its players and reduce their performance?

That's naivete. The reporting itself, is just plain stupid. After A-Rod denies using any "steroids, hormones, or other performance enhancing substances" why not ask "so you never used protein shakes?" Of course he has. And vitamins. And creatine monohydrate. Hell, I use all that stuff, or have. Each of these is performance enhancing and the list goes on endlessly.

And oh, the outrage that Andy Petitte used Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for 2 days - when it was legal at the time! What's the problem, people? The problem is setting policy and enforcing it in an open manner.

I think the issue is black and white - as in listing. There are two basic approaches to access control, blacklisting and whitelisting. Black listing is about maintaining a list of banned substances. This is on the whole what they have been doing. The problem is that drugs are evolving so fast, that a crafty chemist can find a loophole. And it takes time to discover it, research the substance, and then add it to the blacklist. But that is the general approach.

If baseball was in fact serious about this issue, and especially the effect on children, it might implement a whitelist approach, where a list of allowed substances is managed. Everything else is off limits. If you want to take something, submit it to the board, if it gets approved, then you can take it. Otherwise, you can get prosecuted for it. The downside of this approach is the overhead of maintaining an active stance on substance legality. You would have to setup baseball's mini-FDA. But, it makes the rules clear at all times, it gives no player with a secret potion an advantage since everyone has access to the whitelist, and it also sets a hardline stance of what is safe, which for outsiders, especially kids, is important.

Lastly, the testing and enforcement process needs to be transparent. Random and frequent drug testing should be mandatory. If you can pay A-Rod $300 million, you can ask him to pee in a cup every week. And every other player for that matter. Twice a week in the post season. If you don't like it, I am sure there are other professions that will pay you your millions. And the report on no shows, effectivity, etc. should be scrutinized by a committee or other open body. The penalties should be clearly spelled out, and enforced. Do we really need the US Congress to step in?

And by the way, it't not just baseball. But basketball. Football. Hockey. And every other conceivable sport. God forbid if I have to endure this scandal for each one separately.

America should stop being the pansy in the corner thinking about how honorable sports and the importance of living a childhood dream. Our honor rests on much more these days and it's time to grow up a little. It's entertainment, not chivalry.

Sports federations should stop being a roid raged bum of an athlete focused on immoral acts for the gain of the sport. If you want to project honor, be honorable. If you want to make money, open it up and be a businessman. Hell, let's start an altered Olympics. Anything goes. That's entertainment!

But most of all, can they take this off the front page? There is a war going on. A new presidential campaign. A million people might lose their homes. Iran just got enriched uranium from Russia. Economists are talking about stagflation. And it's Christmakwanzicah.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Motorola Q-uitter

It's hard to imagine a more important service in you life: your phone. The number of people who now rely solely on their mobile phone has increased 10 fold in the past 5 years. But as phones get more complicated, constantly pushing the bleeding edge, they frequently experience issues. But this is just ridiculous.

In the past 18 months, my Motorola Q with Windows Mobile has had to be replaced 5 times because of issues. That's a shocking 3-4 months mean time between failure. That's crazy!! Every time I have had it replaced, it takes several hours at the Verizon store, plus shipping the new phone, plus shipping the old phone back and all the ancillary activity. Plus, the stores have to coordinate with the Verizon call center. All this must cost a tremendous amount. With slim margins, how can Verizon be making money here?
Maybe my experience is isolated. But according to the Verizon shop out in La Jolla, this is all too common.

They told me that I should get the Blackberry which works like a charm. Well, great. Let's replace it. They then proceeded to try to charge me $600. So after spending $500 on a phone that is a complete lemon, it's time to draw the line. I am calling Verizon tomorrow and demanding a different model or I am out. $100 bucks says it's an iPhone from AT & T and I want Verizon to know exactly why! I actually am looking forward to getting on the phone with them because I know it costs them $6.

I guess this is how you take your most valuable customers and turn them into enemies. If you offer high end products to the most demanding market segment and they are terrible, the tarnished reputation will follow you.

Hasta la vista, Motorola and Verizon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nothing to Fear but the Lack of Fear

I wrote awhile back that it was quite odd to interact with the animals in the Galapagos because they were completely fearless of natural predators. There are no wolves, bears, or other carnivorous mammals, so why would birds, turtles, or sea lions be afraid of me? It suggests a wonderful utopian nature built without primal fear.

But outside of the Galapagos, predators are everywhere. And so squirrels in Central Park scurry away, birds keep their distance, and deer stand at watch with their nervous gaze, ready for flight in an instant. That’s the natural state of things.

I guess that’s why I should be more suspicious of animals that don’t fear me. This week I went scuba diving off the Channel Islands in California. It was the last dive of the trip. As Matt, Rob, our divemaster, and I all descended down the anchor line in our dry suits, we noticed an odd looking ray near the bottom. It has the body of a ray, flounderish, and round, like an odd alien craft. About two and half feet in diameter, it was hovering and undulating just above the sand, its little membrane covered eyes almost hidden. It also has the tail of a shark, making it look like a strange mutant of a creature, further suggesting its antiquity and rarity, and of course making it even more interesting to explore and interact with.

The animal was calm at our approach and I floated towards it with small, slow kicks that were designed not to agitate the sand and cloud the waters. Within seconds I was face to face with it, both of us hovering inches above the sand. Rob and Matt watched as I came face to face with it. A diver took photos. All of a sudden it flipped vertically and I was confronted with its fishy, white underbelly, and 8 inch mouth with small sharp teeth. It went towards my face, and I flipped backward in instinctual defense. It was like the incubator animal in Alien, and it immediately jarred me. Not that this little thing could hurt me, or so I thought. So I relaxed and re-approached. Almost immediately it laid back on down on the sand and so did I, and it came up to me and rubbed by my neoprene covered hand. After another minute, it scooted off.

As I got back on the boat and we all reveled in my experience, the captain chuckled at our giddiness and my bravado. He began by describing the animal to the tee, including the blue gray body and spots and then proceeded to inform me that it was the pacific electric ray, an animal capable of discharging a kilowatt in 45 volt bursts, or roughly twice the current of an electric breaker. The captain knew someone who had been attacked by one, who had wrapped its underside around the head, and delivered the stunning charge. The 6’4, 300 pound behemoth described it as being hit in the head with a bat.

The official word from the Florida Museum of Natural History is that:

Divers are warned to avoid contact with the ray, as the shock of 45 volts or more is powerful enough to knock down an adult human. The Pacific electric ray is very confrontational and if harassed, will swim directly at divers. There are no confirmed mortalities from this ray, but there are some unexplained scuba fatalities in which this ray might have played a part.

If a great white or tiger shark takes too much interest in you, they say you should swim towards it, not away from it, indicating a lack of fear. In the wild, that will scare an animal, because it doesn’t know what you are and what your confidence indicates. Next time, perhaps I should take the same advice when an animal seems so unafraid of me …

Friday, December 07, 2007

Instructional Videos on the Web

This is an interesting follow up to the original piece by Kansas State professor Jon Burg describing how the web changes information. It also shows the value of video to captivate and communicate key ideas. Video instruction over the web I predict will become a huge market. Already pitching some ideas to people for niche market segments. Where is expertise hard to find? What instructional videos would you watch? Knitting? Tae Kwon Do? Open Heart Surgery? The opportunities are endless. And the imagination for how to convey ideas over video are as well.

If you can't see this, try clicking on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4CV05HyA

Thursday, December 06, 2007

God is Not Great: Book Review and Rant

I recently finished Christopher Hitchens' new book God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything and I thought it was reaffirming, although it got a little bit repetitive in the end. How many examples of the absurdity of religion are necessary to prove the point? How many examples of religious intolerance does it take to sway the tide? I guess for others it might require more argument, but I was bought in from the get go.

Unfortunately, what the book does not do is pave a way for creating a more agnostic society or more importantly a tolerant society. Hitchens is the serial contrarian, not the reformist. How do you fight for a non-idea vs. a bad idea? Kind of like the democrats vs republicans in the past 4 years, although recently the democratic debate borders on substance.

How do you preach such a simple concept of inclusion and objectivity when fanatical charmers are wooing followers by the thousands, dominating the educational system in areas, and commanding communication. How do you stand up and say "I don’t know what I believe but you are not right,” and make that a battle cry? (the not right being about intolerance not faith, although frankly ...).

I think a lot will be about changing the semantics of arguments. Evolution is a “scientific theory” which is the equivalent in natural English of a “law.” No one would argue with the law of gravity. What about the law of evolution? What if we could extend hate crimes bill to people who are targeted for lacking faith? What else can we do? The estate tax didn’t get repealed until it was relabeled the “death tax.” How do we change the language to make it more difficult? Intelligent design is not an “alternative scientific theory” just a “theory” like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but somehow we are losing this debate, and badly, I might add. If we can’t win one with such weighty evidence (they just found one of the highly publicized missing links in a glacier in Canada), how can we win at all?

When can we return to the age of reason? Was that an illusion too? All I know is I am getting pretty aggravated with the level of idealogical violence in the world today. God forbid you let kids name a Teddy Bear Muhammed or publish a cartoon or ... or ... or ...