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Sunday, May 31, 2009

America and the British Live in Their Own News Bubbles

Photo1: Mideast Meets West
Photo2: London Subway Meets Star Trek
I just returned from a week in London and found that each county, the U.S. and U.K., seems to have its own news bubble.

British TV and newspapers are obsessed with the scandal of Ministers of Parliament that could cause half of them to be out in the next few months -- for putting on their public expense accounts repairs to their moat and hiring their spouses and kids for work they may or may not be doing. They were paying off non-existent mortgages with their “second home expense allowances” – and none of it was public knowledge until now.

The big sports news was the Manchester (England) soccer team going to Rome for a soccer match. The AIG T-shirts I saw on the street took me by surprise. I first thought it was for the American insurance company, but then discovered “AIG” is the initials of the Manchester soccer team. It’s really funny how different the meaning of the same words can be in different countries. (Susan Boyle was also big news in the UK, but there the focus was on her “meltdown” before the finale of “Britain’s Got Talent” and yelling “F You” at people at a hotel. (If she had been at my un-air-conditioned hotel when it was nearly 90 degrees I would have understood completely).

During the same week America was in a tizzy over a Hispanic woman being named to the Supreme Court. I might as well have been on Mars. BBC was focused on Sri Lanka and soccer. This seems to be true in Asia, the Middle East and South America as well.

Even my Blackberry “World Edition” phone wasn’t connecting in the UK as it was supposed to. We use different phone systems that make it hard to communicate between continents. Your U.S. phone is a dead paperweight unless it also has GSM capability like mine, which didn’t work. So I tried using a local “sim card” that you can buy for $5, but it turned out my Blackberry was “locked” (by Verizon) so that option wouldn’t work either. Even though T Mobile is in the UK it uses a different Megahertz than the U.S. We need to figure a way to globalize communications. The current system maintains communication barriers between us. We need a true world phone.

Back in the U.S., I heard that someone tried to break into Windsor Castle while I was there. Not a word of THAT was in the British news. British Censorship? (I now need to figure out if I was near the place at the time in question.)

I apologize to my British friends but the local news and four TV channels in London were boring and hard to watch – old Dean Martin westerns and bizarre game shows. I used to think that our American local news left a lot to be desired. Suddenly our local news looked sophisticated compared to the choices in one of the largest European cities. Cable TV was not available in my hotel room so I got a taste of “real” British TV. You learn a lot when you get out of your bubble. They did have an excellent show on the discovery of 47 million year old “Ida” that could be the “missing link” to humans. The UK newspapers had excellent coverage of the Nobel Laureates meeting on climate change, with America’s Steven Chu attending. None of that made it to the UK TV news and I doubt it made the U.S. news either.

It’s fascinating to see how each country lives in its own news bubble. In the U.S. we have gotten only a small mention of the British political scandal that is absolutely huge - the UK newspapers predict nearly half of Parliament’s members will be replaced before elections next year. It’s the first time in 300 years that a British speaker has resigned.

It turns out that the leadership in the UK Parliament turned a blind eye to abuse of expenses by members of both parties. Major reforms are needed to make expenses transparent. If the good times were still rolling it might not matter so much. But property values in London have fallen like everywhere else and people are pinched (a taxi driver said things were “dead”) – so the revelation that members of Parliament were using public money to repair moats and put their entire family on the public payroll has made the British people mad as hell -- as it would here in the U.S. (our members just put their kids on their campaign staff instead. LoL).

When I flew back to the U.S. the news perspective is entirely different, but equally self-focused -- and equally lacking in a global perspective. After hearing about North Korea’s nuclear test, it seems silly to be worried about a Hispanic woman who said the simple truth that being a woman and a minority gives one a clear look at the real world compared to a white guy who never faced the many limitations that all women and minorities face every day. All of this happens the same week that a black police officer was shot and killed by white police officers in New York who assumed he was a bad guy with a gun. We need people of different backgrounds to represent all of us on the highest court to understand a diverse world -- because of our news bubble we understand very little that is happening beyond our own social circles, hometowns and our borders.

If America is to thrive in the years ahead we will have to break out of our bubble. Mismanagement and narrow thinking by auto companies like GM and the financial sector has cost us dearly. The auto companies like Vauxhall in the UK are facing the same problems. The same mentality was rampant in Europe as well -- and led to the same result: everyone partying on increases in real estate values until the crash.
America can’t recover economically if the world doesn’t – the current recession is a global one. Real solutions will require a global strategy, not just a self-absorbed one. To do so, we need to break out of our small news bubbles -- on both sides of the Atlantic. And we need to make seamless global communications easier.

Monday, May 25, 2009

London is HOT - Needs UV protection

Monday, May 25, 2009

London is HOT. Literally. 87 degrees today.

I’m staying at what is probably the world’s smallest hotel with a big name. It definitely has the smallest elevators that I’ve ever squeezed into – the smallest was maybe two feet deep and three feet wide. Me and a suitcase filled it up. It claimed room for 4. Four people would have passed out from lack of air and claustrophobia in it. LOL. I started taking the stairs and my body is wondering what this exercise thing is all about.

Photo 1: A serious moment at the RAF Museum.

The Museum has an impressive collection of WWII aircraft and artifacts, and a great restaurant. You can reach it on the Tube – (make sure you get off at the Colinwood stop – it’s left out the station and a 5-10 minute walk up the road. If you get off at Hendon you’ll be found passed out somewhere on the road, or begging for a taxi. You can “fly” in the EuroFighter simulator for about $4. What a wild 4 minute ride around the sky that was.

Photo 2: London dress is an amazing collection, including a number of women wearing the minimum –or scarves. It reminded me of the 60’s mixed with the global village.

London is so international – so many colors mix on the streets and you pass all kinds of casual languages, most of them tourists. I’ve been in over 55 countries and even I didn’t know what some of them where. Russian, French, German, etc.

The taxis used to be all black, noisier and bigger -- when I was last here 17 years ago. Now they are quiet, smaller-- and come in rainbow colors. I even saw a pink one today.

The cruise on the Thames to Greenwich was fascinating. For the first time I was able to straddle the zero meridian – one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the western. Too bad they haven’t put a graphic on the wall you stand in front of when straddling the dividing line. Instead, you are in front of a bare white wall.

Beware, it was quite a hike uphill from the Greenwich boat dock. And it was HOT. It seemed like a million people and little kids were out enjoying the bright blue skies. The Thames is now lined with expensive apartments, some converted from old warehouses. In all the years I’ve traveled through London I had never been on the river. It is the best part.

TV news is that skin cancer rates in the UK are way UP -- from too much sun and tanning beds. The reporter said they needed UV protection. Cases will rise by 5 times in the next few years. Imagine the UV rays possible with North Korea, the odd hermit kingdom, with a nuclear weapon.

More later…

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cell Phone Spying

I will be on Houston's Fox 26 news Wednesday night as a "security expert" talking about new software programs that let people spy on you via your cell phone. It's pretty scary stuff.

It will even turn on your phone's microphone so you can hear any conversation within range of the phone...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hubble's Space Repair

I happened to notice that one of the astronauts fixing the Hubble is Mike Good.

I remember meeting him a few years ago - and have the photo to prove it! lol. He was a really nice guy. I have no doubt he'll do a great job fixing Hubble.

A friend of mind discovered a MUSHROOM growing out of a wall in his house. A Mushroom? It has to be from hurricane IKE - that has to be a new one for the insurance books.

On GM and Chrysler: Their decision to cut thousands of dealers is why they are in the situation they are in. DUMB.

Dealers are independent and don't cost the manufacturer money. So cutting these dealers will cut sales outlets and cost over 60,000 more jobs. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB. But then, if they were smart, they wouldn't have ended up in this situation would they? (Ford hasn't even taken any bailout money!) Congress or the President needs to kick some butt there. Dealers donate to their local community. Having fewer of them won't help either GM or Chrysler survive. it will only make it harder for them to survive.

We are incredibly busy...

Go NASA! Hubble has been our window to the universe. Keep up the great work.

Friday, May 08, 2009

No More Plywood

I've been traveling and not keeping up with this. Business is exploding. Yesterday I went to do one measurement at one house in Kemah - and ended up doing three when two neighbors also wanted a quote. I had to postpone a Pasadena appointment as a result.

A couple of the homeowners told me that they were sick of fooling around with plywood. It was HEAVY and a hassle to install even on the ground floor (not to mention the 2nd floor).

One lady pointed out that the plywood stacked up on their garage wasn't any help when the freak storm and a tornado rolled through our area a week ago Saturday. She's right.

They wanted something that would (1) provide both relief from solar heat, (2) be affordable and (3) provide 24/7 security from future storms.

Security window film is catching on - I sat in on one project for 60,000 sq. ft. of it to protect a Houston icon. Right now we are working through a dozen buildings that are getting both solar and security film rolled into one.

It's great to be in a green business that also provides security. While I still get flyers on seminars on how to survive in this market, it seems surreal. Our sales are up over 100% from last year!