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At Ideas Camp


[Aspen, Tuesday morning]

A glorious morning at Ideas Camp! What a boondoggle this is. No amount of blogging could possibly make this turn into anything resembling what ordinary Americans call "work." The Institute is putting me up in the Meadows resort, where people putter around on golf carts and the air is filled with the soothing sounds of tumbling streams and brooks. There is still snow high in the Rockies. The mountains are showing well.

I have my own water bottle. That's my favorite part of Ideas Camp. It is made of some kind of futuristic plastic, or carbon fiber. I will ignore the fact that it has a Chevron logo on it and is made in Switzerland. The people who run the Ideas Camp put my name on the bottle, so that, if it gets lost (these things can go astray), the camp counselors can repatriate it. There are water filling stations throughout the Aspen Meadows complex. So I can use the one bottle over and over, and my hydration will be virtuous.

Last night I heard Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, warn that the U.S. is in danger of falling behind the rest of the world in science and engineering. He was pretty grim about it -- says short-sighted politicians and teachers unions and so on are resistant to long-term changes in the educational system here. He favors charter schools and vouchers. Best line: A person in the audience asked what kind of technology he'd like to see in classrooms. "The technology I want to see in classrooms? Good teachers."

Barrett answered questions posed by John Doerr, the famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist. After the talk I asked Doerr what his latest triumph was. Google, he said. Right! I think I mumbled something stupid about how that must have been a pretty good investment. He said he and his partners own something like 12 to 15 percent of the company. As I stood there I tried to do a little calculation on what that chunk of Google stock is worth, but the numbers got so big I threw a mental sprocket.

I should stop trying to make money with writing, and instead learn how to be a "venture capitalist," and identify the embedded value in things like a web page that is almost entirely blank except for a little rectangular box. Which is itself blank. Fill In Blank. That was a good idea, that one.


[John Doerr]


[Tracy Day and Brian Greene]


[Walter Isaacson]


[Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter]

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 1, 2008; 9:45 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Big Ideas; Bad Decisions
Next: Avoid Being Spaghettified


Good lord. 12-15%? That's 20-25 billion. Damn. I need to be a venture capitalist. :-)

Posted by: Josh | July 1, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

So this has mutated from a festival to a camp? How cool is that. Will there be singalongs and smores and color battles and stuff?

Or am I projecting based upon my adolescent experiences.

The important thing is that you get exposure to great minds. Like that Isaacson fellow. I'm about two thirds of the way through his Einstein book. And I think he did a pretty bang-up job with it.

Alas, for every wealthy venture capitalist who invested in Google there are a dozen licking their financial wounds because they thought "" was the next big thing. (Gosh I hope that isn't a real website. I'm certainly not going to check.)

So have fun at camp, remember to change your socks frequently, and be sure to write home lots.

Just watch out for the bears.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 1, 2008 10:33 AM | Report abuse

A water bottle of one's own. *sigh*

To me Howard Fineman always looks like what SciTim may look like in a few years, if he gets a little paunchy (and his hair grows back).

Tracy Day is Mrs. Greene, FYI. Just sayin'.

Joel is exposing one of the greatest "dirty little secrets" of journalism: how much fun it is to go on junkets. Never mind all this crap about protecting Democracy and Truth and Justice and all that. It's the junkets. Jeez, I loved 'em. Talk about yer guilty pleasure. I once got to fly to Lima, Peru, fer cryin' out loud, and they let me ride in the cockpit of a C-141. How great was that? Ya almost feel bad getting a paycheck at the end of a week like that.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Almost but not quite, right, Mudge?

I hope we come around, education-wise. I will say I can't complain about mine, nor the ones my children received, in public schools and public universities.

Posted by: slyness | July 1, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Y'know, I'm not surprised that with as much brainpower as is there, everyone has figured out how to have a nice get-together in the Rockies and talk about Big Ideas, while having other people pay for it.

That's a pretty good Big Idea, IMO.

Seriously, those are some very very smart and intelligent people up there, Joel. I'm sure they have to turn up the a/c in those meeting rooms because of the extra BTUs those brains are throwing out.

An interesting notion when I think about it - perhaps there's a relationship between knowledge, intelligence and Global Warming?

Conversely, if we were all less knowledgeable and intelligent, there wouldn't be so much of a problem with Global Warming. Certainly from cranial BTUs put into the atmosphere, anyway.

Too bad you aren't hosting that panel, Joel. That'd make for an interesting minute of discussion.


Posted by: bc | July 1, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

PS: If pressed, I will claim that any relationship between my 10:42 AM comment and the Bush Administration's environmental policies is purely coincidental.


Posted by: bc | July 1, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

So Fineman is not going to do his cable gig this week? You're sure there with the heavys, Joel. Weather looks gorgeous, mountains spectacular--notice the green swath of the ski slope in the background. Fertile playground for the mind.

I was going to say last night: Fauci, Lessig, Isaacson, but see you and Walter have already hooked up. Any other M.D.s there besides Fauci?

Doerr: Content, speed, easy access or human interface.

Barrett's mantra is hardly a new one, others have been chiming in with the same song for some time now. The only way to get an innovative school is to get innovative administrators and top-flight teachers and the only way to do that is to pony up a lot more money--especially after youthful enthusiasm and particularly altruism wears off for some of these educators, who are expected to provide a challenging classtroom, year after year. Make teaching wages competitive with industry wages, give them sabbaticals so they may refresh themselves. Pay innovative curriculum designers. Develop teams. Absolutely toss teaching to a test.

My research efforts yesterday have landed me on Fifth Avenue--to William Backhouse Astor, Jr. The Florida Yacht Club is a far-off tie-in, as is his son who went down on the Titanic. IIRC, there was a post about the Titanic Astor not long ago.

Posted by: Loomis | July 1, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim is working to eliminate the incipient paunch. Although, you wouldn't know it from the number of desserts that I've eaten tonight. I deserve it. I'm far from home and I have hair to grow.

Joel, I have a big idea for you (I have blogged this idea before): solve the eagerness of Iraqis to become human bombs by making their lives better. Subsidize the sale of Priuses that have been modified to be plug-in hybrids (but make sure that no one can tell that the U.S. had a hand in it). Assist in the development of decentralized power generation (solar), so that sabotage is less effective.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 1, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Re: last boodle and voters. Flipping channels last night and caught part of Annenberg Public Policy Center/Peter Hart Focus Group done at York, PA yesterday on C-Span2. Seemed like over half of the panel had bought into the various rumors about Obama in one form or another. Really frustrating to watch.

Posted by: km2b | July 1, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Trying to make money from writing--that's a funny one. But junkets and personal water bottles must make it worthwhile.

On my way to BPH (did I get this right?)swinging by the Spy Museum to check out how Kingmaker is selling. Maybe I'll be able to afford a beer.

Intelligence is definitely guilty of global warming. If we lived in caves and our numbers were kept down by beasts and other hazards to living things, there would not be global warming.

Alas, every planet needs at least one sapient species capable of removing salt from the oceans and hauling it back uphill.

We, humans, have exeeded our natural mandate.

Posted by: Alexey Braguine | July 1, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

yes, well, it's difficult to get teachers unions to accept a lot of proposed changes because they just make life miserable (teaching to the test, being at the mercy of incompetent principles, etc).

there was a recent article about a public charter school that paid six figures (the administrator-founder got less than the teachers in order to make ends meet with public financing). They refused special grants to show that it can be done. I think this coming year is their first year, so we'll see how it goes. I'll try to re-find the article.

also, a while back the book "2% Solution" suggested doubling teacher pay in order to make a deal with unions on hiring/firing etc.

after interning in a harlem school and then in educational policy, i doubt seeing any of the above happening any time soon. but at least they're big ideas?

Posted by: uva yankee | July 1, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

It appears that someone is trying to limit Curmudgeon's options.

But that could be a GOOD thing.


Posted by: DLD | July 1, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Joel, the weather should be perfect all week. Are you all gonna sleep under the stars in sleeping bags? All the hot air should keep you warm. That would be a sight. :-)

Drink plenty of water, as I'm sure you know, to ward off high altitude headaches. So swell of them to put your name on your own bottle.

I'm excited about my trip to Breckenridge later this week. Always a thrill to be in the Rockies, the high country.

Posted by: eidrib | July 1, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I'm willing to give that privilege up for the "greater good" of mankind, DMD. *sigh* The things I do for humanity.

SciTim, not to be argumentative, but I don't think "making Iraquis' lives better" will stop their bombing. In their eyes, the bombing is what will make their lives better (plus they get to go to heaven, 72 virgins, all that business). Also, it is has been pretty firmly shown that suicide bombers don't do what they do because they are "poor" and need a better life; they tend to be better educated and further up the economic ladder than commonly believed: often sons of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. It's not about economics and better lifestyle. Unfortunately (because if it was, we could do something about it).

Got that one right, Alexey: "writing" is a lousy way to try to make a lot of money. Or even a decent wage.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Idea Camp, what fun! I'm so glad we can eavesdrop a little and share the experience. Thanks, Joel.

ScienceTim, I was somewhat traumatized by your video, to the extent that when I looked at that first picture in the kit? The one with the mountain covered with trees except for that one part that has been cleared for a ski slope? It reminded me of you.

Big ideas, I got nothin'. I need more space, some mountain air, a couple days off. THEN I would have ideas, by gosh. Meanwhile, I'll just check in from my cubicle periodically and let Achenblog feed me the ideas of the moment. Perhaps that will at least slow the rate of the brain atrophy I'm experiencing.

Posted by: kbertocci | July 1, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, wasn't me on the no thongs - it was DLD.

Just a quibble about the bombers - yes they are probably the more educated, middle class but if I remember my history of revolutions that is the pattern it is the growing middle class that revolt against the situation they see (the population of the larger/poor/down trodden).

So perhaps improve the lives of the many not the relatively few bombers. Then allow for wackos that exist in all societies.

Just an ideal.

And while I think of it is the a Solutions Festival?

As my sister so kindly pointed out yesterday I have officially reach middle age, time to find some solutions.

Posted by: dmd | July 1, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I see genetics will be included in both the Food and Society and Medicine 2025 tracks.

Posted by: Loomis | July 1, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

DLD--very funny sign. Would be uncomfortable in the sand methinks.

Posted by: eidrib | July 1, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

My big Idea of the week is to start a diet, since I am already into middle age and my on going mid-life crisis.

Hope everyone has a great day,off to work, booooooooo.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | July 1, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I see in Shankar Vedantam's article, along with photos, on the homepage, he mentions Hannah Poling, but not the unnamed girl in Colorado (speaking of Colorado) who died in April after getting the nasal-spray vaccine FluMist.

Both Poling, who became autistic after a series of childhood vaccines, and the unnamed Colorado girl had undiagnosed genetic disorders of the mitochondria, genetic material that comes from the mother. Odd, idinit, that Vedantam's artile is titled "Fathering Autism"?

Great reporting about genetic mitochondrail disorders here, and as the NYT points out "the need of better data on the risks and benefits of vaccinations in children with these rare disorders":

Posted by: Loomis | July 1, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

So "festival" is what the kids are calling it these days. Seems that Mr & Mrs Tracy Day (see Mudge's 10:36 am) put together the first annual World Science Festival this spring.

I'm picturing a bunch of scientists inhaling the helium from all the festive balloons and thinking big thoughts (the ideas were being saved for the Ideas Festival, you see).

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey! i have an idea... last time we BPH'ed, we saw that M&S had set up tables outside.

Since it's such a beautiful day, let's try to score some of those tables, OK? Those of you who get there first... does that sound good?

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

One more post... did anyone already point to this hilarious story?

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a great idea, TBG, except that I think someone told me that you can't get the Happy Hour menu at those tables--full menu ordering only.

CP, do you know yet if you'll be able to arrive at 4:20 or so? I'll meet you, if so.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

FYI, I sent in a comment to the Weingarten chat during which I wished Happy Canada Day to all you Haute Mainers. Didn't make the cut. Hey, I tried.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

whoever mentioned the itching - DAMN YOU! now i can't stop itching!! it's like the dreaded infectious yawn. (i think coughs are infectious too...) i'm allergic to poison ivy as well - and i always forget what it looks...

my own water bottle and filling stations prolly filled with sweet mountain water... oh, to dream! i guess i'll just sulk in my cubicle sipping on deer park water... that is, until it is time to BPH - then i shall rejoice!
(hey - who's the out of towner bph'er tonite?)

Posted by: mo | July 1, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Stocks go any lower today and you can sit around and drink and toast a bear market. Perhaps someone can bring gummi bears.

Posted by: Loomis | July 1, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

RIP to Clay Felker, publisher of "New York" magazine back in its founding days. I used to read that thing religiously, cover-to-cover. It had some really outstanding journalism -- plus it had the original granddaddy weekly contest that spawned the Post's Style Invitational.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Just escaped from office hours with all my body parts intact. MUDGE, can NOT make the boodle porching hour as I am poodling around with car pool. My got-my-back gals are out of town.

Darn it all, to pieces anyway, to miss Dreamer and the new thriller guy.

Posted by: College Parkian | July 1, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to hear that, CP. Disregard the e-mail I sent you two minutes ago.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

TBG your link to the Tyson Gay story and blog is too funny. I almost choked on my lunch as I read the story and comments. Funny but sad, too.

Posted by: eidrib | July 1, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: dbG | July 1, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Mo, one would wish that a poison ivy vaccine would be invented, but alas, because it's an allergy, it'd make people really, really hyperallergic.

By the way, I found a possible "rationale" for separating milk and beef dishes anyway. Milk and beef protein have different major allergens, but minor allergens in one may also be present in the other, so in theory, beef with gravy might increase your risk of becoming allergic to beef (which is still a really rare allergy-- chicken allergies, although very rare, might be slightly more common). Even so, it can cause anaphylaxis when it does occur.

In one family with beef allergy, the incidence was 2/3 of all tested, which shows it has a strong genetic cause.

The FDA mentions that milk allergy often precedes beef allergy in this letter analyzing whether a proposal to use a wash with lactoferrin (derived from milk but found in beef in larger amounts) is after all safe.

The FDA states it has no authority to regulate how meat products are made (the USDA does), but they can indeed regulate labelling.

Gotta love that histamine magic, no? I'd hate to be one of the unhappy few who truly are allergic to beef, as they can crossreact to other meats, and they may well have to be vegan for their overall health.... and I do believe I have known a couple of people who had such sensitivity to meat from childhood.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 1, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Did anybody mention the "idea" that journalism has failed the country and that journalists have failed their profession?

Just wondering.

Posted by: Shredder | July 3, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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