October 28, 2004
Craig McCaw: 'He's back'
This great visionary, who built one of the nation's first cellular phone networks doggedly and quietly in the 80s and early 90s, then sold it to AT&T for $11.5 billion in 1994, has a new project.
It's called ClearWire.
McCaw has teamed up with Intel to develop a technology for portable high-speed internet access.
McCaw plans to set up a national network offering broadband internet access, both in major metropolitan areas and those not now served by cable or DSL.
It just opened for business in Jacksonville, Florida.
The partnership with Intel is based on WiMax, a high-speed wireless internet technology Intel's been pushing as a longer-range version of WiFi.
McCaw's had some big-time failures as well as his 1994 home run; he founded NextLink Communications, eventually renamed XO, a wireless and wired communications company that went bankrupt.
He also was the driving force behind Iridium: this company promised to enciricle the globe with satellites transmitting high-speed data, phone calls, etc..
That flameout cost Motorola and the venture's investors plenty.
But for McCaw the great thing is, after that nice check AT&T wrote him 10 years ago, there's always time and money for another try at the brass ring.
'Cause he's playing with the house's money, now and forever.
Here's Tuesday's Wall Street Journal story, by Don Clark, about this driven, restless billionaire's latest venture.
Intel, McCaw Team Up on Network
Portable Wireless Internet Uses WiMax Technology; Clearwire to Get Investment
Intel Corp. is teaming up with telecommunications pioneer Craig McCaw to develop a technology for portable wireless Internet access.
The partnership includes an investment by Intel in Clearwire Corp., Mr. McCaw's closely held company.
Financial terms weren't disclosed.
But Sean Maloney, an Intel executive vice president, characterized its investment in Clearwire as "significant."
He said the money will be drawn from a $150 million fund set up by Intel's venture-capital arm to promote wireless technology.
McCaw has ambitious plans to set up a U.S. network offering broadband Internet access, focusing on metropolitan markets as well as areas that aren't now served by services based on cable or digital subscriber-line technology.
Its first service recently opened for business in Jacksonville, Florida.
Clearwire, based in Kirkland, Washington, has acquired a large number of wireless-spectrum licenses. McCaw this year also bought NextNet Wireless Inc., a maker of communications hardware that has sold equipment in Canada, Mexico, Africa and Asia.
The deal with Intel is based on WiMax, a wireless technology that Intel has been heavily promoting as a longer-range adjunct to Wi-Fi, which only has range to offer connections inside homes and businesses.
WiMax products now appearing on the market support fixed wireless communications, but industry engineers are hammering out final specifications for a version of the technology - known by the designation 802.16e - that will allow users to stay connected as they move laptop computers around the home or take them to other locations in a service provider's coverage area.
Up to now, Clearwire has used NextNet's proprietary data-transmission technology.
Under the deal with Intel, however, Clearwire has agreed to deploy networks based on equipment from NextNet that use Intel chips supporting the 802.16e technology.
The effort won't lack for risk, or competition.
Many services focusing on providing data access alone have failed.
In each city it operates, Clearwire will have to set up transmission facilities that are akin to the cell sites used to supply wireless phone service.
McCaw built one of the first national cellular networks, which he sold to AT&T Corp. in 1994 for $11.5 billion.
He later founded Nextlink Communications - eventually renamed XO Communications Inc. - a company with wired and wireless communications services that went in and out of bankruptcy-court proceedings and is now controlled by financier Carl Icahn.
"We've been through all this a couple of times before," McCaw said in an interview, referring to the task of building a nationwide network in the U.S.
"I personally understand all the pain and suffering that goes into it."
Maloney, who announced the partnership at a trade show in San Francisco organized by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said that Intel, besides selling wireless chips,
believes that WiMax and other broadband technologies drive demand for personal computers that use its microprocessors.
Ashlee Simpson iPod - Karaoke Edition
BehindTheMedspeak: Heartburn Drugs Increase Likelihood of Pneumonia
That's the gist of an article published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The highest risks occurred with the most powerful acid-fighting drugs, the proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium.
Now, it's always been my opinion that Big Pharma invented acid reflux as a disease for the sake of big profits.
I mean, when I was in medical school, if you had heartburn, you took an Alka-Seltzer.
But now there's GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease),
a whole new medical arena with a bunch of mega-profit, billion-dollars-in-sales-annually drugs to treat it.
I've never liked the idea of using drugs that alter basic physiological pathways for the treatment of specific problems.
For example, proton pumps exist not just in the stomach's acid-producing cells, but in each and every cell of the body.
The drug companies will assure you, though, that the drugs only affect those in the stomach.
Just like the Cox-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx only inhibit Cox-2 in joints.
Merck was devastated when it had to admit it had known for years that this just wasn't so.
To me, these proton-pump inhibitors are major overkill.
But their association with pneumonia is new.
The scientists reporting the new association said that suppressing stomach acid with drugs may make the body more hospitable to harmful bacteria.
They posit that these bacteria then infect the lungs and cause pneumonia.
Wait a minute.
You're telling me that pneumonia-causing bacteria in the stomach, a caustic, life-destroying acid environment, are absorbed through the stomach, into the bloodstream, and then make their way into the lungs to cause infection?
Pneumonia happens when infectious bacteria are inhaled or transmitted by touching a surface containing them.
You don't get pneumonia through the stomach wall.
In fact, heartburn - so-called acid-reflux disease - can cause a person to accidentally inhale regurgitated stomach acid, increasing the risk of pneumonia.
But it's not the contents of the stomach acid that transmit the pneumonia.
Rather, it's the damage to the lining of the airways that renders them more susceptible to pneumonia-causing bacteria.
We all are loaded with potential pathogens, yet rarely do we get sick; it's all a matter of balance.
Whatever these heartburn drugs do to proton pumps in the lung, it can't be good.
JarPop - World's best jar opener
From the website:
Opens tight, vacuum-sealed jars with little effort!
No twisting or turning is necessary - simply lift up and pop to release vacuum pressure and free the lid.
Lids remain resealable.
A bookofjoe Design Award 2004 winner.
It meets one of the fundamental criteria of a great design: No moving parts.
[via Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools]
BehindTheMedspeak: Cosmetic Neurology
Too late to decide if we like it or not.
Last week's Washington Post front-page story by Rob Stein about the new field of selective traumatic memory erasure reports on the beginning - where it will lead, it's impossible to imagine.
I believe this is the first step in our inexorable merger with - and evolution into - living machines.
But not, by any means, the last.
Here's the most provocative story.
Is Every Memory Worth Keeping?
Controversy Over Pills to Reduce Mental Trauma
Kathleen Logue was waiting at a traffic light when two men smashed her car's side window, pointed a gun at her head and ordered her to drive.
For hours, Logue fought off her attackers' attempts to rape her, and finally she escaped.
But for years afterward, she was tormented by memories of that terrifying day.
So years later, after a speeding bicycle messenger knocked the Boston paralegal onto the pavement in front of oncoming traffic, Logue jumped at a chance to try something that might prevent her from being haunted by her latest ordeal.
"I didn't want to suffer years and years of cold sweats and nightmares and not being able to function again," Logue said.
"I was prone to it because I had suffered post-traumatic stress from being carjacked. I didn't want to go through that again."
Logue volunteered for an experiment designed to test whether taking a pill immediately after a terrorizing experience might reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The study is part of a promising but controversial field of research seeking to alter, or possibly erase, the impact of painful memories - a concept dubbed "therapeutic forgetting" by some and taken to science fiction extremes in films such as this summer's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
Proponents say it could lead to pills that prevent or treat PTSD in soldiers coping with the horrors of battle, torture victims recovering from brutalization, survivors who fled the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and other victims of severe, psychologically devastating experiences.
"Some memories can be very disruptive. They come back to you when you don't want to have them - in a daydream or nightmare or flashbacks - and are usually accompanied by very painful emotions," said Roger K. Pitman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who is studying the approach.
"This could relieve a lot of that suffering."
Skeptics, however, argue that tinkering with memories treads into dangerous territory because memories are part of the very essence of a person's identity, as well as crucial threads in the fabric of society that help humanity avoid the mistakes of the past.
"All of us can think of traumatic events in our lives that were horrible at the time but made us who we are. I'm not sure we'd want to wipe those memories out," said Rebecca S. Dresser, a medical ethicist at Washington University in St. Louis who serves on the President's Council on Bioethics, which condemned the research last year.
"We don't have an omniscient view of what's best for the world."
Some fear anything designed for those severely disabled by psychic damage will eventually end up being used far more casually - to, perhaps, forget a bad date or a lousy day at work.
"You can easily imagine a scenario of 'I was embarrassed at my boss's party last night, and I want to take something to forget it so I can have more confidence when I go into the office tomorrow,' " said David Magnus, co-director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics.
"It's not hard to imagine that it will end up being used much more broadly."
So far, only a handful of small studies have been conducted in people in the United States and France, most testing a drug called propranolol, which blocks the action of stress hormones that etch memories in the brain.
The results suggest drugs may be able to prevent traumatic memories from being stored with such disturbing intensity in the first place, or perhaps deaden effects of old memories if taken shortly after they have been reawakened.
The results have been promising enough that researchers are planning larger studies in several countries, including the United States, Canada, France and Israel, testing propranolol and other drugs, including the active components of marijuana.
"You always have the ability to misuse science," said Joseph E. LeDoux, a New York University memory researcher planning one of the studies.
"But this isn't going to be radical surgery on memory. All we'd like to do is help people have better control of memories they want or prevent intrusive memories from coming into their minds when they don't want them."
The ability to manipulate memory has long been the stuff of science fiction, inspiring fears of government mind control and films such as the 1962 classic "The Manchurian Candidate."
No one is anywhere near having the power to extract the memory of a love affair or implant complex new memories, as depicted in "Eternal Sunshine" and a 2004 "Manchurian Candidate" remake.
But scientists have started taking the first tentative steps toward developing treatments based on new insights into why emotionally charged events - whether it be President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Sept. 11 or a first kiss - create such indelible memories.
"Whatever is being learned at the time of emotional arousal is learned much more strongly," said James L. McGaugh of the University of California at Irvine.
McGaugh demonstrated that strong emotions - fear, love, hate, panic - trigger stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, which activate a part of the brain called the amygdala, creating unusually vivid, emotionally charged memories.
"Any strong emotion will have that effect. It could be winning a Nobel Prize. It could be a very faint whisper in the ear, 'I love you,' at the right time."
Propranolol, widely used for heart patients, blocks the action of stress hormones on the amygdala, which led researchers to start testing whether it could prevent PTSD.
The study Logue was in, along with a similar one in France, found that people who took propranolol immediately after a traffic accident or some other traumatic experience had fewer physical symptoms of PTSD months later.
"I really think it helped," said Logue, 35.
"It helped not bring back my earlier bout with post-traumatic stress and made it easier to cope with this new incident. I look both ways before I cross a one-way street now, but I'm not in a panic."
So far, the research has suggested only that the emotional effects of memories may be blunted, not that the memories themselves are erased.
"I think it's an unfortunate misconception that it's blotting out memories," said Charles R. Marmar of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who helped conduct the French study.
"What it does is help people manage the memories so they can tolerate them."
But other researchers are trying to go further, possibly deadening or even obliterating any effects of old memories.
"People had thought that once a memory was stored or consolidated it stays that way. People thought, it's there for life - it's fixed," said Karim Nader, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal.
"We showed that wasn't the case."
Laboratory rats trained to fear a tone completely lost that fear when scientists injected into their brains a drug that blocked formation of proteins necessary for memory storage while the animals were prompted to reexperience fear and store the memory again.
"When you activate a memory, it comes back up in a dynamic state and has to be restabilized using the same mechanisms that stored it in the first place. You can interfere with that," Nader said.
A small preliminary study being presented next week at a Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego tested for the first time whether propranolol can affect old memories in people.
"We have no idea whether it's erasing memory or putting a fence around the memory," LeDoux said.
"But from the point of view of the PTSD patient, it doesn't matter as long as the effects are gone."
But some ethicists question this whole line of research.
"Our experiences and our memories in a lot of ways define us and define who we are," Magnus said.
"And so that's a scary step to go down. We should be very careful about going down a path that could lead to a serious alteration of the core essence of our identities."
Beyond the personal impact, ethicists also worry about the societal implications.
"Consider the case of a person who has suffered or witnessed atrocities that occasion unbearable memories: for example, those with firsthand experience of the Holocaust," the President's Council on Bioethics wrote.
"The life of that individual might well be served by dulling such bitter memories, but such a humanitarian intervention, if widely practiced, would seem deeply troubling: Would the community as a whole - would the human race - be served by such a mass numbing of this terrible but indispensable memory?"
The researchers acknowledge the prickly ethical questions but argue that the research should go forward because of its potential to alleviate suffering.
"I approach it from a medical standpoint - that PTSD is as much a medical disorder as a broken leg," Pitman said.
"I don't say they don't have legitimate concerns, but it's hard to argue we shouldn't pursue this just because of ethical speculations."
Psychiatrists at the University of California at San Diego are finishing a follow-up pilot study on accident victims.
Pitman and the French team are starting bigger studies to confirm their initial emergency room findings.
And Nader and colleagues in Montreal, and LeDoux and his colleagues in New York, are beginning studies in PTSD patients who will take propranolol immediately after reliving their traumatic memories to see if it can affect memory re-storage, known as "reconsolidation."
Researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem are planning a similar study involving the active ingredient in marijuana.
Marmar and Pitman are working on identifying those most prone to PTSD, with the idea that they could receive propranolol immediately after a terrorist attack or some other traumatizing disaster.
"If this is safe and effective, it's one of the few tools we'd have in the case of a mass disaster," Marmar said.
"What are you going to do if there's a dirty bomb? You'll have widespread panic. Do you want these poor people to be haunted by this searing memory?"
Why John Kerry will win the Presidency
Note: I didn't say I wanted John Kerry to win; I said, "Why."
Here at bookofjoe, we're far more interested in "why" than "what."
"What" is dross; it fills the airwaves and newspapers, and I consider it all white noise or, as Bob Dylan said of Time magazine back in the day, "an adult comic book."
"Why" is fun, exciting, surprising, and interesting: that's where I hang out.
The reason Kerry will win is that the CIA and the Pentagon are going to steal the election for him.
Not because they necessarily agree with his politics and plans; rather, because he will leave them alone.
Bush intends to create a national intelligence czar, overseeing the CIA and the Pentagon's intelligence operations, and seizing control of their finances.
Not a happy thought to the entrenched powers-that-be atop the nation's spy shops.
Just as the long knives of the institutional memory arm of the CIA came out earlier this month to publicly disembowel Michael Kostiw, new CIA director Porter Goss's nominee for the agency's powerful number three position, they will strike again, under deep cover and cut out from any possible linkage, to deny Bush an election victory.
Consider yesterday's Washington Post headline: "Turf War Stalls Intelligence Bill; Pentagon Allies at Odds With Advocates of New Director."
The military is not happy with Bush's plans.
Last week, a secret letter to Congress from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers, opposing the unlimited powers of the proposed new intelligence czar, was leaked to the New York Times.
Yeah, right: "leaked" might not be quite the right word.
This past weekend's Financial Times story on the subject was headlined "Victorious Kerry Would Sack Head of Intelligence."
You don't think the Cold War veterans of the CIA were ecstatic as they read that?
Charles McCarry, one of the greatest living spy novelists, wrote a novel in 1979 called "The Better Angels."
In it, McCarry - himself a former long-time CIA case officer - predicted the 9/11 terrorist bombings with uncanny accuracy.
Remember, this was 22 years before they happened, long before terrorism was even a faint spot on the radar.
The book's plot also hinged on a successful CIA ultra-black-op to rig and steal a presidential election.
I think Shakespeare hit it right on the head four centuries ago when he wrote, in "The Tempest," "What's past is prologue."
Said Kerry recently, "If I'm elected, Porter Goss will have had one of the briefest tenures as head of the CIA in its history."
So that's why I'm quite confident we'll see Kerry as President-elect come November 3, 2004.
[Full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, an employee of the CIA]
A Lamborghini is its own universe
William Grimes (above), former restaurant critic for the New York Times, has been a sort of roving cultural reporter for the Times for the past year.
I find his pieces consistently amusing.
Yesterday's, on what it was like to tool around New York City in a brand-new $282,000 silver Lamborghini Murciélago, was especially entertaining.
For example: "By trial and error, I found that the ideal speed in a Murciélago is not 100 mph, it's 0 mph. Sitting at stoplights, I found myself thrust into a world of power, wealth and celebrity."
Here's the full story.
Who's the Dude in the Silver Lamborghini? Yo, Bill Gates!
There comes a moment in every James Bond film, and every Bond book, for that matter, when 007 takes the wheel of a snazzy European sports car.
It might be the signature Aston Martin or, in the films, a Lotus Esprit, but either way, the setting always seems to involve a sinuous stretch of coastal road with a casino and a beautiful woman at the end.
Under a brilliant Mediterranean or Caribbean sun, Bond motors skillfully at top speed, one hand on the wheel, the other on the gear shift, his mind on the chemin de fer tables and a woman named Vesper or Domino.
Bond at the wheel made a deep impression on my young mind when the Ian Fleming books first came out.
The films only reinforced it.
For decades I dreamed of getting my hands on a top-flight Euro sports car, the kind of precision-tuned mechanical marvel that gives out a throaty, animal roar when a toe tickles the accelerator.
It never happened - until a few weeks ago, when I lowered my now middle-aged frame, creaking and groaning, into a 2004 silver Lamborghini Murciélago.
There's no question that the Lambo qualified for a starring role in my personal fantasy.
The specs on the car are almost ridiculous.
Nearly 600 horsepower.
Six gears, and a top speed of more than 200 miles an hour.
Set low to the ground, and nearly twice as wide as it is high, the car looks like a Toledo sword designed to slice through the atmosphere.
My first thought, on seeing the driver's-side door ascend vertically, was to abase myself, to bow down like Garth in "Wayne's World" and bleat out, "I'm not worthy."
By way of prep work, I had called up Jim Kaminski, the founder of the Lamborghini Owners Club of America.
I wanted advice on how to adjust my image, acquire the right fashions and, in general, project the alpha-male confidence that the car required.
The Lamborghini logo is, after all, a snorting, rampaging bull, and the Murciélago takes its name from a Spanish bull so brave that Rafael Molina, a 19th-century matador known as Lagartijo, spared its life.
Oddly enough, murciélago, in Spanish, means "bat," which means that Lamborghini's flagship model is, literally, the batmobile.
Mr. Kaminski, analyzing the appeal of the car, zeroed in on the engine.
Not the size, the torque or the horsepower, but the sound.
"It's sort of shrill," he said.
"And part of the thrill is hearing it go upward as you go through the gears."
Part of my sacred duty, when driving the car, would be to rev the engine at stoplights.
"You have to share that," he said. "People want to hear the car." I made a mental note to share whenever possible.
Lamborghini has thoughtfully recorded these sounds and put them on its Web site, www.lamborghini.com.
The Lamborghini image, it seems, is evolving.
The old-line Lambo owners like Mr. Kaminski tend to be car purists.
They like to work on engines.
They sneer at Ferrari owners.
"They're the kind of people who buy the car to put on display as garage art," Mr. Kaminski said.
"A lot of them wouldn't even know how to get the hood unlatched."
With the advent of the Murciélago, however, the lines began to blur, as image-conscious rock stars and sports celebrities, perhaps seduced by those scissor-style doors, lined up to plunk down the $282,000 sticker price.
The raging bull logo, once a cult symbol, has become common cultural property, as I soon found out.
My Murciélago came with a new feature, introduced last year on the Gallardo model.
It's a clutchless semiautomatic transmission that allows the driver to shift by flicking an aluminum paddle on either side of the steering wheel with the tip of a finger.
The right paddle is for upshifting, the left paddle for downshifting.
If the engine's r.p.m.'s drop below a preset level, the car downshifts automatically, and lazy drivers can press a button on the car's console to make the tranmission fully automatic.
After easing myself into the car, and adjusting to the idea that I was now a human projectile, I took stock of my surroundings and found them reassuring.
The controls are simple, even austere.
Putting the car in reverse is a little odd. You push a button on the dashboard.
And there's a button on the console that raises the chassis, making it easier to park, or to avoid scraping the bottom when negotiating an incline.
The sound system is appropriately spartan.
Who wants to listen to anything except the engine?
I thought about tuning in to NPR and stopped myself.
Would a Murciélago, gulping gasoline to eke out eight miles a gallon, even receive NPR?
You're more productive in a warm office
A recent study conducted by Cornell University professor of design and environmental analysis Alan Hedge found that when office temperature increased from 68º to 77º, typing errors fell by 44% and typing output jumped 150%.
All I can say is, good thing I wasn't among the test subjects.
I hate warm work environments and find myself unable to do much of anything productive in them.
Even the OR, which most people find ice-cold, and where I'm running around in my pj's, is too warm for me.
An aside: "Some Like It Hot" is my favorite movie of all time.