I once heard Tony Blair talk about Global Warming in the midst of a snow blizzard in Davos. He was having a real hard time making his case and at one point he did remark that it was a paradox to make the case to prevent warming in freezing conditions. We would have all preferred being in the Caribbean. Fast forward 5 years to the Caribbean – last weekend to be precise. Again we are talking about global warming during an unusually cold day in Saint Barths, this time with Nathan Myhrvold, ex CTO of Microsoft and one of the smartest scientists/inventors on the planet. We were having a Christmas dinner with my wife and his wife and kids and the subject of global warming came up again. The conversation was inspired by the fact that Nathan’s firm, Intellectual Ventures, has a proposed solution for global warming called Stratoshield that I found fascinating. But the challenge for me to communicate this idea to you is that as smart as Nathan is, marketing is not his forte and I did not find a simple description of the project. So I will do my best to explain it.

If you want to start by Nathan’s sources however, you can watch this video in which he does explain the Stratoshield concept to Fareed Zakaria. But it is long, complicated and the road that takes you to learn about Nathan’s proposed solution to global warming is winding and passes by such random topics as how fast penguins poo (it turns out that they poo very fast). You can also read this article and watch a very well made animation. If you prefer to stay on this article here’s my short version of Stratoshield.

Human beings have enormous behavioral inertia. Once we start doing something it is hard for us to change. And we are addicted to carbon based fuels. It will be very difficult to ask humanity to kick the CO2 habit in the near term. Moreover CO2 stays for thousands of years and we have sent up an incredible amount of the stuff. So while we try as much as we can to cut future emissions it is very likely that we will fail to do so quickly enough. So what can we do to prevent global warming? Learn from volcanoes. It turns out that volcano eruptions cool the earth significantly. And they cool it because they emit sulfur dioxide which act by creating blocking some of the sun’s energy at the stratosphere and preventing it from getting to the surface of the earth. Small quantities of sulfur dioxide, like small quantities of Ozone for example, have huge effects on climate. So what’s the solution, to wait for a volcano to erupt? Well we could but volcano eruptions are highly unpredictable. So the next best solution is to emulate a volcano. Stratoshield: two 25km garden size hoses near each pole flying into the stratosphere held by V shaped balloons that pump sulfur dioxide up from the earth providing shade for all of us.

How much would it cost to test this solution? Less than $100 million dollars. And, implementing it costs less than what USA spends on defense in one day.

Ok, so what is the bad news? Unfortunately, Nathan is not getting enough key people in the States to back his solution. Environmental activists, Al Gore types, believe that his plan would be seen as a license to emit and it is better not to even try.

My recommendation to Nathan was to go for a very different angle. Instead of promoting his concept inside USA , go outside and make the case to OPEC, specifically to the Saudis. Why would OPEC or the Saudis spend say $50 million to test this idea? Because OPEC countries have two enormous incentives to see this succeed. One is to continue selling oil but another one is that OPEC countries tend to be extremely hot countries already who can do with the little extra shade that the sulfur dioxide would provide from the stratosphere. Nathan appreciated this advice and I would not be surprised if Intellectual Ventures tries to approach the Saudi Government. I hope they do.

Now what do I think about the sulfur dioxide pump solution to global warming? It’s complicated. After visiting China and being unable to breathe well because of the pollution, I believe that there are other more urgent reasons, like global health, than global warming to cut emissions. Clean air is not only beautiful, crisp, but it is also much healthier. So I believe we should go for both. Do everything we can to cut emissions, but also try Nathan’s solution out as an emergency plan B. As Nathan says, his solution is like a bypass. You may ask the whole world to avoid cholesterol but few do, and in the end, many get a bypass or stent surgery. Nathan’s solution to global warming is one very long stent!

I finish with a picture of Nathan’s Yacht, the Teleost, and my sailboat, Aphrodite. In my carbon defense, I would like to mention that my sailboat just crossed the Atlantic from Barcelona to Barbados and then on to Saint Barths. With us on board, and in spite as weighing as much as 75 cars, it spent the fuel of one car doing those 4500nm because it goes by wind power. Fuel is used for the generator. Nathan’s boat on the other hand, as you can see, is a motor boat and does consume enormous amounts of fuel. But in Nathan’s defense, I can say that if his idea works, we should all give him enough lifetime carbon credits to use Teleost guilt free!

stbarths (1 of 1)

Yesterday, Nina and I went from Saint Martin to Miami. As a result of the foiled terrorist attack we were subject to two screenings. One was the already extensive screening that US airports do, shoes off and all. But after that, we went through another painful passenger by passenger screening that resulted in a 90 minute flight delay. Every passenger was searched an average of two minutes by two security people divided into male and female passengers. This included intense searches of passengers in wheel chairs and people of all ages, included very elderly passengers.

As I observed this process, I could not stop thinking that there must be a better and faster way of dealing with periods of high alert like the one we are going through now right in the middle of the holiday season. So this what came to mind.

I would leave the first screening as it is but I would change the second screening. Before you go on reading, please remember that until yesterday I had never encountered a second screening. If there is going to be a 90 minute long second screening process, here is a better alternative. It is what I call P2P passenger to passenger airline screening.

The plan would be that in the waiting area, before boarding, with all passengers there, airline personnel organize 20 groups of 10 passengers each. It is important that the assignment be done randomly by airline employees. One way would be to use seat assignments. After the groups are formed, two leaders would be chosen in each group based on the passengers with the most miles. Then in each group passengers would introduce each other and leaders would ask whatever questions they find reasonable in order to conclude if the members of her/his group are safe to fly with. If they see anything out of the ordinary they would refer the passenger to security for further questioning.

Why P2P?

-passengers have skin in the game. Security personnel stays on the ground.

-it is much faster. 2 people screen 200 passengers for 2 minutes each in 200 minutes. This process should not take more than 15 minutes, possibly 5.

– this is on top of current security, it is one more layer of security.

-many terrorist attacks are stopped by fellow passengers.

-with all respect to the privately hired security forces that screen passengers around airports, it is likely that the average well traveled passenger is smarter than the average newly hired private security employee.

-as opposed to Israeli screening methods which are considered best in the world and involve extensive, random interviewing, current security does not involve conversations. It is through conversation and normal human interaction that a person who is about to blow up a plane, with whatever method, may be discovered.

The P2P screening idea is one of those projects like Wikipedia, that believes that collective intelligence is greater than individual intelligence. Two experienced travelers leading a group of 10 other travelers in a 10 minute session can uncover anomalies that were not picked up during screening oriented towards finding explosives that are so hard to track. And in any case, this is an idea that deserves much further thinking and redesign before trialing it. One good group to ask to would be imprisoned terrorists. The question would be simple. If you had to go through physical searches alone or to both physical searches and questioning by an experienced airline traveler what would you worry about more? I tend to think that terrorists, like anyone, would fear the unpredictability of the P2P system.

To end the post with a positive note, this 90 minute delay was nothing compared to the amazing time we had during our honeymoon.

Here are some pictures.

The Peek works great in the States but the PeekFON setup in Europe is new. We have not roamed. We have not yet tested it around the continent. So today, we decided to give the first PeekFONs to Fon employees and close friends as beta testers who will test them and travel over the holidays. Then, after 30 days of testing, we will open the sale to the general public. We already have a waiting list for PeekFONs and we will deliver them in the order in which the request was received. To be on the list click here. We don’t collect credit card information. Only names and basic info. Thanks to those who ordered and we are sorry that we are not delivering today as we had mentioned but we believe that a month of bug discovery is the safer way to go. Also we are missing a few countries for roaming like Norway and Andorra. We are trying to see if we can solve this between now and January.


Thank you Wired for your “Good Enough” article. It helps me explain why in the era of “my smartphone is smarter than yours” we are launching the PeekFON – unarguably the simplest smartphone around and no rival in terms of apps to the iPhone, Android or Blackberry. The PeekFON is about simplicity. A PeekFon is “good enough”. The PeekFON does one thing very well, email with a full keyboard. And email is what most people need at work. So the PeekFON is a working tool. It is geared towards companies who want to give employees connectivity on the road. The way I see it, if an iPhone is Facebook, a PeekFON aims to be Twitter. Simple, to the point, with limitations, but “good enough”. 23 euros for the device, no roaming anywhere in the EU, no contracts, and a flat 12,90 per month with the first half year prepaid. So you pay 99 euros for the device and 6 months of prepaid service when you order. After that, you only pay for the months you use it. If you want to reserve one click here.

Tomorrow I have my fourth photography lesson with Mauro Fuentes, the number one photography blogger in the Spanish language. In preparation for that lesson, this is my homework. They were taken this morning in Chelsea, London.

We live in Madrid. It is at this time of the year, when the days are shorter, that I realize what living in the dark can mean. And I find it very sad. No matter how many Christmas lights there are around. I guess people in the North of Europe get used to it, but I haven’t seen the sun for 5 days now and I miss light, brightness, colors and the dimension that sunlight ads to objects. In Europe, the word immigrant means immigrant from the South. But in Spain, we have 60 million tourists every year. While they come for many reasons, fun, landscapes, food – they mostly come in search of…light.

This was an unplanned interview by Michael Arrington that precipitated the PeekFON announcement.

This is a more extensive interview on Fon

This is an audio interview that was done by Jennifer Lindsay using a very interesting tool for the iPhone known as Cinch.

Interview here

peekThis December 15th, Fon will launch the Peek in Europe under the brand PeekFON. The Peek is an efficient email gadget whose unique feature is that it will have no roaming charges in any European country.

I will personally do the announcement tomorrow at LeWeb and be at the Speakers Lounge to answer questions for bloggers and journalists at noon. Please follow me @martinvars on Twitter to see if there are any changes in time and location. Please write to me @martinvars or at martin@fon.com to schedule interviews.

The PeekFON will be 99 euros to buy, a reasonable price especially considering that the price includes both the gadget and 6 months of all-you-can-eat email service anywhere in Europe. No roaming charges. No contract.

After that we will charge 12,90 euros per month for the service but, as opposed to other email machines out there, there is no cancellation penalty of any kind if the user does not want to continue with the service.

This is a complementary service to Fon WiFi but it is not a WiFi product. It is a GPRS product. The idea is that with Fon you share a little wifi at home and roam for free. The PeekFON addresses those moments in which you can’t find WiFi in spite of Fon´s over 800,000 hotspots now available in Europe. With the PeekFON you get the most important piece of messaging, your email, anytime.

Browsing, Twitter, and other functionalities will be added within months. For now, buyers have to think of the PeekFON as an email machine with a full keyboard.

Why is Fon launching the PeekFON?

Because in Europe, we pay huge roaming charges when we leave our own countries. As a German you can come to France and easily pay in a day what the Peek will cost in a month.

Because many people still prefer a phone that looks like a phone for phone calls and sms, and an email machine for email, and don’t mind carrying two devices that do their jobs well.

Because even if you never leave your country Blackberry services, iPhone and Android services in Europe cost around 50 euros a month and have minimum 2 year stays and include no talking minutes. So in Europe, even if you stay at home, you spend 1200 euros to get email and if you travel around Europe, you spend double that on the average. This would compare with 312 euros with PeekFON vs 2400 euros if you roam, and 1200 euros if you don’t. So there are enormous savings for getting email.

Having said all this, Fon recognizes that, “apples to apples,” a Blackberry, an iPhone or an Android is a better product than a Peek. If you have the extra money to sign 1200 euros contracts and spend a few thousand more for roaming, the Peek can’t compete with the complete iPhone, Blackberry or Android experience. But as a pure and simple email machine, the Peek can compete. And its price is reasonable.

We also recommend Americans (and Asians and other non-Europeans) coming to Europe to get a PeekFON as roaming charges by US operators are a killer over here. So much so that the iPhone for example comes with a feature to disable roaming.

The PeekFON will be available at Fon.com December 15th. It will be available for shipping to all European countries for which shipping is now provided for the Fonera. If we see demand from USA and Asia we will also have it available at our US and Asian shops to be activated when landing anywhere in Europe.

GPRS service for the PeekFON will be provided by the new pan-European MVNO for gadgets Spotnik. Fon will be Spotnik’s first customer.

PeekFon in the press:

TechCrunch again
Washington Post

They are my dear friends, and I don’t need to praise them in public, but I will do so this time. They deserve it. A year ago, Geraldine and Loic ran a very publicly criticized LeWeb to which many people swore they would not return. The main complaints were: lack of food, lack of heating and lack of connectivity. Three event killers. Any other event organizer would have fallen to such criticism, thrown in the towel and retire from the business. But Geraldine and Loic are not “any other event organizer”. They have a passion for getting people together in an atmosphere of trust and they work hard and in sync at it. So not only they did not give up, but they came back in full force. With the best LeWeb ever. In the midst of a global recession, they got over 2000 participants from 46 countries. And if they manage to add more Asians to this event, they will soon have the most global internet event on the planet. So far, I have only been to the speaker’s dinner, but I am happy to report that it was warm, there was plenty of amazing food, and there was connectivity.

What do you do when you fall of a horse? You get a better one 🙂

Please don’t say that we are not in winter yet, because in Spain we are. Spain is different. In this country winter starts early, and ends early – in Mid February I would say. This is the opposite to what happens to our days. During a Spanish day, everything takes place late – lunch at 2pm, dinner at 10pm. And, yes, you can go to Menorca in the winter and have gorgeous days, sunny with highs in the upper teens (our teens not the F teens which are so cold). Want some proof? Here are some pictures. But keep it a secret. It’s actually better when nobody is here – not including you of course.

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