Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Playing Safe Becomes Dangerous

In the Mid '70s, when I was still a kid, my parents took me to the zoo. We lived in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (West Africa) and the thing I remember the most about that visit is the baby lion that roamed freely in the zoo restaurant and elected residence under our table to nibble at my father's leather boots.

I am not talking about a robot, a stuffed animal, a 3D image or even a leashed animal. I am talking about a living and totally free baby lion.

Imagine the same thing today, in North America. So un-Disney-esque! I mean, what about the risks, the insurances, ... What if a customer was to step on a baby lion poop with Prada shoes or if that wild animal was to attack and maim a small child. Oh my God! Lawsuits forever. Bankrupcy, prison and a life of misery.

Yet, it's funny how back in the days, nothing terrible happened. It was a time of biking without helmets, riding in the cabs of pickup trucks and children sleeping on the back seat of the car without seatbelts or padded toddler seats. And yet, we're here fine and healthy.

By wanting desperately to play safe, we delude ourselves. The only security comes from within. From our alertness and skillset. By leveling downwards to make the World a safer place for all the idiots and Darwin-Award candidates, we both fail at the task (If you make something idiot-proof, they will come up with better idiots.), but we also help creating a very dull and boring world.

Our lives have become so safe and boring that some of us need to test themselves in extreme sports, exotic travels or drug and alcohol abuse. The rest are becoming duller every day.

Personnaly, I prefer baby lions.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Rest is Icing on Your Cake

I've learned early on in life that the 2 most important skills you need are:

1. The ability to evaluate people accurately (as fast as possible)

2. The ability to influence them (using what you learned with skill No 1)

The reason is simple: 95% of your success - and problems - in life are directly linked to the people you surround yourself with. In fact, you need only one really negative person (what Mike Lipkin calls a "one person recession") around to ruin your life.

Learn to identify and flush all the downers and losers as fast as possible.

Refuse to spend valuable time with average people.

Look out for brilliant, fun and inspiring people. And be sure to add value to their life.

Moreover, no matter what you need, want or can dream of, someone else already has. It is simply a matter of bringing them to give it to you (with money, charm, wit, friendship, etc.).

You can be the greatest genius of all time, if you can't get along with other people, you are doomed to fail.

However, if you can only master these 2 skills, the rest is icing on your cake.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The World Needs More Americans Like Ron Paul

Texas congressman Ron Paul, is one of the few politicians in a long time I've heard saying things that actually made sense. Of course, the truth is often harsh and most Americans, especially in his own Republican Party, don't want to hear it. That's why they're all trying to silence him.

How strange that we never heard about him in Canada? Listen to what this guy has to say, it is well worth it. (BTW, he often refers to inflation as a tax and how we should abolish the Fed. For those interested, read this earlier post.)

For more of Ron Paul views:


Thursday, September 4, 2008


We can now hear the rumble of the financial tsunami that is about to hit us, and that movie's timing is perfect. Too bad it's only playing in "10 US Major Cities".

Can't wait to see it in Montreal, if it opens here someday. Gee, it's funny how people love bad news when they are not for them and try to hide from them when they touch their lives.

Official Movie Site

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sleeping in My Car

I love to drive and so far, I've embarked on a fair number of road trips. I drove to 3 of the 4 corners of North America (I have yet to see the North end of the road, but we'll fix that very soon.)

I once drove 11,000 km (6,875 miles) with my father, from Montreal to California and back in 11 days.

But my craziest roadtrip was with my buddy Sylvain, when we drove 5,500 km (3,450 miles) from Montreal to New Orleans and back in a 4 day week end. We drove 27 hours straight to get there and another 26 to get back in time to be at the office on Tuesday morning. (And we partied 2 days on Bourbon Street.)

I often had to sleep in my car. It's not that comfortable, but you get used to it and can endure for a few days.

I couldn't imagine it was a way of life for some people. I was very surprised to learn that some people who lost their jobs are living in their cars across the US. A growing number of cities even have designated parkings where they can park and sleep.

One of them is Barbara Harvey, a 57 year old mom from Santa Barbara who sleeps in her Honda CRV with her 2 golden retreivers.

We're not talking about gipsies in some remote corner of the Balkans or the Third World, it is hapening right now in California, the richest state of the richest country in the World.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Greatest Adventurer Alive

French adventurer Patrice Franceschi is almost unknow in the English speaking world - mostly, I suspect, due to a language barrier. In fact, as far as I know, none of his numerous books and movies are available in English. And yet, he probably is the greatest adventurer alive.

Unlike media magnets like Richard Branson, Steve Fossett and Mike Horn, to name just a few, Franceschi's exploits are less athletic feats and closer to the old spirit of adventure where exploration, discoveries, the quest for knowledge and sometimes a desire to change the World were the prime motivators for risking your life. The hardships where an unwanted necessity.

Today, we have a new breed of action heroes looking to push their limits and establish World records on ego inflated quests. The essential part, involving exploration and making the World a better place have somehow been lost in the process.

Franceschi's interrest lies more on that old fashioned side and less on the superlative record breaking artificial side required by sponsors and media; and that may also explain why he his not as widely known as I think he should be, considering his accomplishments.

After all, he mounted his first expedition shortly after his 20th birthday and set to explore a grey spot on the map of Congo. When his Pygmy guides turned back, he pushed farther down in the dark forest under 240 feet tall trees where he almost died from starvation in the floods caused by the rainy season.

In the early '80s, he fought in Afghanistan alongside the rebels and against the Soviet invaders.

He was first to circumnavigate the globe on a tiny ultralight plane. It took him 2 1/2 years.

In the late '90s, he discovered a lost tribe in Papua New Guinea.

Risking his life, he sneaked into Nagaland (east India) to film a documentary on the Naga headhunters.

Fond of exploration, Patrice Franceschi worked on humanitarian projects (Somalia, Vietnam, Romania) and became a writer and a film director. He is also President of the “Société des Explorateurs Français” and Member of the “Société de Géographie”.

He succeeded in the latest sailing expedition of his ship " La Boudeuse " between 1999 and 2001 in the Indo-Malaysian archipelago.

More recently, after the wreck of his first ship, he mounted a new expedition around the World with his second ship La Boudeuse, taking along adventurers and scientists.

Who knows where he'll end next. One thing's for sure, he will pursue his quest to bring back the spirit of adventure into this overly bored World. It sounds better in french: "Transformer le quotidien en romanesque."

More info

Short bio (French only)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Screaming heads

Thanks to Facebook's magic and to my cousin Dick Deschênes motorcycle wandering, I learned about a strange place in the middle of nowhere land.

Screaming Heads is a surprising mix between Easter Island and Scary Movie. It is located in a field in Burks Fall, Ontario, not far from North Bay and roughly 3 hours north of Toronto.

Peter Camani, the artist behind this surrealistic scenery is an art teacher. An eclectic by nature, his interests have included marathon running, martial arts, farming and aviculture in addition to painting and sculpture.

For more info, visit The artist's Website

All pictures courtesy of Dick Deschênes

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is a chicken just a chicken?

Something funny happened to me this morning as I was preparing breakfast. I cracked an egg with 2 yolks. Hmm... How come?

I went online to check but the egg was perfectly edible. Turns out you have one chance in 100 to get such a double yolked egg. They are generally produced by younger hens. It is supposed to mean luck. Great then!

Being curious, I got diverted and accidentally learned that there are hundreds of chicken species. Hundreds!

For me, a chicken what just that: a chicken. White and feathery, with a little red crest. That's it. White meat and eggs. Well, just in France, they have close to 50 chicken species.

The same applies to beef, pork and lamb.

And they all taste differently.

Funny that most people have no idea of all this. They buy their eggs and their steaks and that's it.

My guess is that our profit hungry economy as spawned huge mega farms where only the fastest growing (and thus more profitable animals) are raised.

Some people are actually working hard to save some of these species from extinction, like Pierre Oteiza who is raising black Basque hogs in France's Pyrénées Mountains.

Maybe we should ask ourselves: Is a chicken really just a chicken? Have some people deliberately narrowed my choices in the meat department? What's the overall impact of reduced biodiversity on the Planet? Aren't we losing something really interresting here?

Chicken Species: http://www.avianweb.com/chickenspecies.html

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Night of the Gun

The Night of the Gun, by David Carr is yet another junkie memoir in the likes of Jimm Carroll's The Basketball Diaries (Great movie with Leonardo Di Caprio) and James Frey's A Million Little Pieces.

What's interresting is that it was written by a NY Times Colunist. The story is worth telling and the writing is great. That's all I needed to put it on my reading list.

Also, I must admit that the author's words grabbed me:

Here is what I deserved: hepatitis C, federal prison time, H.I.V., a cold park bench, an early, addled death.

Here is what I got: the smart, pretty wife, the three lovely children, the job that impresses.

Here is what I remember about how That Guy became This Guy: not much. But my version of events is worth knowing, if for no other reason than I was there.

The book's Website is great: www.nightofthegun.com

A review, by the author.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Genius of R. Buckminster Fuller

Thanks to my good friend Jean Lanoix, I just finished reading GRUNCH of Giants by the late R. Buckminster Fuller, a mind so brilliant that reading his book made my head spin.

Although Fuller is best known as the inventor of Geodesic Domes, he accomplished much more. I personnaly regard him as one of the great geniuses of the 20th Century.

Let me share with you an excerpt of the book where Fuller's accomplishments are listed. It is quite staggering.


There exists a realizable,evolutionary alternative to our being either atom-bombed into extinction or crowding ourselves off the planet.The alternative is the computer-persuadable veering of big businessfrom its weaponry fixation to accommodation of all humanity at an aerospace level of technology,with the vastly larger,far more enduringly profitable for all, entirely newWorld Livingry Service Industry.

It is statistically evidentthat the more advancedt he living standard,the lower the birth rate.It is essential that anyone reading this book know at the outset that the author is apolitical. I was convinced in 1927 that humanity's most fundamental survival problems could never be solved by politics. Nineteen twenty seven was the year when a human first flew alone across an ocean in one day.(In 1944, the DC-4 started flying secret war-ferryings across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1961, jet airliners put the ocean passenger ships out of business. In 1981, the world-around airlines flew over a billion and a half scheduled passenger miles and carried hundreds of millions of ton-miles of freight.)

This was the obvious beginning of the swift integration of all humanity, groups of whose members for all their previous millions of years on planet Earth had been so remotely deployed from one another that they existed as separate nations with ways of life approximately unknown to one another. It was obvious that the integration would require enormous amounts of energy. It was obvious that the fossil fuels were exhaustible. It was obvious that a minority of selfish humans would organize themselves to exploit the majority's transitional dilemmas.
I was convinced that within the twentieth century, all of humanity on our planet would enter a period of total crisis. I could see that there was an alternative to politics and its ever more wasteful, warring, and inherently vain attempts to solve one-sidedly all humanity's basic economic and social problems.

That alternative was through invention, development, and reduction to the physically working stages of massproduction prototypes of each member of a complete family of intercomplementary artifacts, structurally, mechanically, chemically, metallurgically, electromagnetically, and cybernetically designed to provide so much performance per each erg of energy, pound of material, and second of time invested as to make it eminently feasible and practicable to provide a sustainable standard of living for all humanity--more advanced, pleasing, and increasingly productive than any ever experienced or dreamed of by anyone in all history.

It was clear that this advanced level could be entirely sustained by the many derivatives of our daily income of Sun energy. It was clear that it could be attained and maintained by artifacts that would emancipate humans from piped, wired, and metered exploitation of the many by the few. This family of artifacts leading to such comprehensive human success I identified as livingry in contradistinction to politics' weaponry. I called it technologically reforming the environment instead of trying politically to reform the people. (I explain that concept in great detail in the latter part of this book. I also elucidated it in my book Critical Path, published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press.)

Equally important, I set about fifty-five years ago (1927) to see what a penniless, unknown human individual with a dependent wife and newborn child might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity in realistically developing such an alternative program.

Being human, I made all the mistakes there were to be made, but I learned to learn by realistic recognition of the constituent facts of the mistake-making and attempted to understand what the uncovered truths were trying to teach me.

In my Philadelphia archives there are approximately forty thousand articles published during the last sixty years which successively document my progressive completions of the whole intercomplementary family of scheduled artifacts. These livingry items include the following:

Tensegrity: The continuous-tension/discontinuous-compression structuring principle of Universe (i.e., stars not touching planets, electrons not touching their atomic nuclei) introduced to planet Earth to replace the continuously compressioned, secondarily tensioned structuring in present world-around engineering theory. Designed, 1929; prototyped, 1929.

The Dymaxion House: The autonomous, mass-producible, air-deliverable dwelling machine weighing only 3 percent of its equivolumed and equipped, conventional counterpart, single-family dwelling. Designed, 1927; modeled, 1928; helicopter-delivered, 1954.

The one-piece, 250-pound bathroom: Designed, 1928; prototyped, 1936; mass-produced in polyester fiberglass in West Germany, 1970.

Synergetics: Exploration and publishing of the fourdimensional geometrical coordinate system employed by nature. (See Synergetics and Synergetics II [New York: Macmillan, 1975, 1979].) Discovered, 1927; published, 1944.

Dymaxion World Map: Discovery and development of a new cartographic projection system by which humanity can view the map of the whole planet Earth as oneworld island in one-world ocean, without any visible distortion in the relative size and shape of any of the land masses and without any breaks in the continental contours. This is the undistorted map for studying world problems and displaying in their true proportion resources and other data. Discovered, 1933; published, 1943.

World Game: A grand-strategy program developing the design science of solving all problems with artifacts, invented by self or others, which take advantage of all scientific and technological development through studies of their effects on the total world's social and economic affairs as ascertainable from the Dymaxion SkyOcean World Map. A means of assessing the feasibility of realizing various initiatives in solving world problems. Invented, 1927; applied, 1928.

Trends and Transformation Charts: These depict the total history of all the metallurgical, chemical, electromagnetic, structural, and mechanical trendings to greater performance per given amounts of given materials, time, and energy. A compendium of all the scenarios of science and technology's evoluting advances. Chronological chart of total history of scientific discoveries and technical inventions. Chronological chart of the mining of all metals and recirculation of the scrap of those metals. Chronological charts of all major industries' performances assessed in terms of per capita human use. These charts, begun in 1928; first published, 1937, at Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C.; published in Nine Chains to the Moon, 1938; published in Fortune magazine's tenth anniversary issue, 1940. This issue of Fortune went into three printings and took Fortune from red- to black-ink status. It changed U.S.A. and world economic health assessment from a tonnage criteria to one based on energy consumption.

The Dymaxion Omnitransport (for land, air, water-surface, and submarine travel): The first full-scale working prototype stage of which was the Dymaxion car, produced to test the crosswind ground-taxiing behaviors of an omni-streamlined, ultimately to be twin-orientablejet-stilts-flown, wingless flying device, which would take off and land like an eagle or duck, without any prepared landing fields (similar in principle to the forty-yearslater descent and takeoff, multijet system of the Apollo Moon Landing craft). Designed, 1927; prototyped, 1933.

Geodesic Domes: The unlimited-size, clear-span structures to accommodate both humanity's converging and deploying activities. Invented, 1938; prototyped, 1947. Since then, over 300,000 have been produced and installed around the world from northernmost Greenland to the exact South Pole; over 100,000 installed in children's playgrounds.

Octet Truss: The flooring or roofing structure for unlimited spanning. Designed, 1933; prototyped, 1949.

The Fog Gun: The pneumatic means of cleaning human body, dishes, clothing, etc., without plumbing's pipedin water supply. Designed, 1927; prototyped, 1949.

Compact, odorless toilet equipment: For conversion of human wastes into methane gas and fertilizer. Designed, 1928; proven in India; now being refined for production use.

Carbon blocks-inserted, copper disc-brakes: Invented and successfully demonstrated at Phelps Dodge, 1937.

Bunsen-burner-melted, water-cooled centrifuge: For processing low-grade tin ore. Invented and successfully demonstrated at Phelps Dodge, 1937.

Hanging bookshelves, and other furniture: Invented, 1928; prototyped, 1930.

Modeling of all geometric developments of energetic-synergetic geometry: Including tensegrity models of all geometrical structures and the hierarchy of primitive structural systems. The minimum, all-space-filling module. The foldable, seven unique great-circle models. The tetrahelixes. Discovered, 1927; demonstrated, 1936.

Twin-hull rowing and sailing devices: Invented, 1938; prototyped, 1954.

Triangular geodesic framing of ocean-sailing hulls: Invented, 1948; successfully demonstrated, I.O.R. racing sloop Imp, 1979.

Very frequently I hear or read of my artifacts adjudged by critics as being "failures," because I did not get them into mass-production and "make money with them." Such money-making-as-criteria-of-success critics do not realize that money-making was never my goal.

I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.

I saw that nature has various categories of unique gestation lags between conception of something and its birth. In humans, conception to birth is nine months. In electronics, it is two years between inventive conception and industrialized production. In aeronautics, it is five years between invention and operating use. In automobiles, it is ten years between conception and mass-production. In railroading, the gestation is fifteen years. In big-city skyscraper construction, the gestational lag is twenty-five years. For instance, it was twenty-five years between the accidental falling of a steel bar into fresh cement and the practical use of steel-reinforced concrete in major buildings. Dependent on the size and situation, the period of gestation in the single-family residences varies between fifty and seventy-five years.

Because of these lags, the earlier I could introduce the conception model, the earlier its birth could take place. I assumed that the birth into everyday life of the livingry artifacts whose working conceptual prototypes I was producing would be governed by those respective-category gestation lags. I assumed my livingry inventions' progressive adoptions by society would occur only in emergencies. I called this "emergence through emergency." For all of humanity to begin to break away from its conditioned reflexes regarding living facilities (home customs and styles), allowing them to be advantaged by my livingry artifacts, would take at minimum a half century to get underway. Since this was clearly a half-to-three-quartersof-a-century undertaking, I saw at the outset that I best not attempt it if I was not content to go along with nature's laws.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

12 740 miles per gallon

You read it right. That's the fuel efficiency reached by the Pac Car.

At 5385 km/l (12 740 miles / gallon), it holds the World record.

To learn more:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Retirement is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance

I just started reading a fascinating book by Timothy Ferris titled The 4-Hour Workweek (Wall Street Journal Bestseller).

Although there are some shortcuts and assumptions in the book, it is so far (50 pages out of 300) refreshing both by the concepts exposed and by the style of the author. I can't garantee my workweek will be shrinked by 60 hours when I finish reading it, but I will have learned a few things.

Here's and except about the irrelevance of planning for retirement that somehow relates to one of my older posts (You can't pack a lifetime into a retirement):

Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed for at least three solid reasons:

a. It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter - nothing can justify that sacrifice.

b. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdog-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per ear. The Math doesn't work. The golden years become a lower-middle-class life revisited. That's a bittersweet ending.

c. If the math does work, it means that you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that's the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you'll be so damn bored that you'll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes. You'll probably opt to look for a new job or start another company. Kinda defeats the purpose of waiting, doesn't it?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Maybe it's time to wash your hands in the toilet bowl

Anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a potential biohazard, one that may carry an extremely dangerous microbe, infectious at an extremely low dose. The current high levels of ground beef contamination, combined with the even higher levels of poultry contamination, have led to some bizarre findings. A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. - Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation

Sunday, January 27, 2008

100 MPG

Once again, my inspiration of the day comes from Fast Company.

This is the story of a Kansas kid who left school at 13 to tinker with used cars and who might hold the solution Detroit ingeneers have long been looking for.

Johnathan Goodwin can get 100 mpg out of a Lincoln Continental while cutting emissions by 80% and doubling horsepower.

After buying a Hummer H1 in 1990 and being totally disappointed, he decided to tweak the huge truck and he did it in spades. First, he worked around the anti theft system to replace the gas engine by a Duramax v8, GM's core diesel for lage trucks. Next, he coupled it with a five-speed Allison transmission. After 5 days of work, the Hummer was getting 18 mpg (twice as much as original) with double the horsepower.

To get even better mileage and power, Goodwin perfected a technique developed by Uli Kruger, a German who has spent decades in Australia exploring techniques for mixing fuels that normally don't mix.

One of Kruger's system induces hydrogen into the air intake of a diesel engine, producing a cascade of emission-reducing and mileage boosting effects.

For the show "Pimp My Ride", Goodwin converted a '65 Chevy Impala to run on biodiesel. He tweaked the car to 25 mpg and increased its pull from 250 to 800 hp. (It smoked a Lamborghini on the quarter mile). Watch the race.

The funny thing is that his conversions are made with 90% of stock GM parts that he assembles in clever new ways.

He's surprised himself that GM can't (or won't) build cars more efficiently from the start.

Read the full story on Fast Company: Motorhead Messiah (It's worth it!)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How Big is eBay?

Actually, how big was it in 2006 (now it's even bigger, but we don't have the numbers).

Ebay marketplaces (including StubHub, Rent.com, and local classifieds): $4.3 billion

Paypal: $1.4 billion

Skype: $195 million (up 686%)

Total annual revenue : $5.895 billion

Let me repeat: $5 895 000 000 - that's a lot of zeros...

If eBay was a country instead of a single company, it would rank 131th out of 180, ahead of Nicaragua, Haiti, Mauritania and Rwanda. Check full country listing by GDP.

Source: Fastcompany.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Turning Torso of Malmö

The Turning torso of Malmö is one of the most fascinating buildings I ever saw.

Inaugurated in 2005, it was designed by superstar Santiago Calatrava who is also the mastermind behind the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Montjuic Communication Tower in Barcelona and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia (Spain).

It is 190m (623 ft) high and uses nine five-story cubes that twist as it rises; the top-most segment is twisted ninety degrees clockwise with respect to the ground floor.

For more info: