February 23, 2006

TED, Day 1.

I didn't write about my experience at TED very much last year, because it's really hard to talk about it without sounding like, well... a cross between a snob and a star-fucker, I guess. Because TED, to me, is really all about talking with a ton of incredible people who are changing the world, but the stories that relate most easily are the ones that involve iconic figures: people we all know. But every story that starts, "So, I was talking to Al Gore today, and HE said..." sounds pretty freaking pretentious. I'm aware of this, but what do you do when you actually DO talk to Al Gore?

So here's some random snippets. Hate me if you must.


Jeff Bezos is everywhere at TED. Well, he seems everywhere. He's an incredibly friendly guy with a very loud, very infectious laugh. I can hear him right now across the restaurant at breakfast. Actually, his laugh isn't loud compared to mine, but I'm not famous, and I guess being famous and means you shouldn't have a loud laugh.

People talk about his laugh and it has this connotation that he's kind of a buffoon, which couldn't be farther from reality. He's really just a genuinely nice guy, and he finds a lot of mirth in the world. He's tickled to meet you, no matter who you are. I've never said "hi" to him and not had him ask me about my day and whether I got enough sleep.

Jeff's freakin' smart, but it's the good kind of smart. Like, if he DID take over the world, well, that wouldn't be so bad. Honestly, if he split it with Larry Page and Sergey, I think we'd be on to something.


My point here isn't, "I met Jeff Bezos and you didn't, nah nah." My point is, I got to meet one of my heroes, and it turns out he's a good guy. He's a, well, normal guy. It's an incredible relief.


Al Gore is a TED this year, he gave a talk yesterday on global warming. I admit that even I have fallen prey, somewhat, to The Right's relentless campaign to discredit the "theory" of global warming. In that I do *not* wake up every day afraid for my life, and, well, we're at that point now. It's time to be afraid.

We're all going to die, really soon, unless we make big changes, really soon. It's as simple as that. It's not a hundred years off, it's fifteen years off. We will be dead. Al has so much scientific data that supports this from so many different sources that, at the end of his talk, you sit there feeling like you've been lied to by our leaders.

Which you have. They don't lead any more, they hide.


Al was incredibly funny in his talk. At the start he made a joke about the 2000 election and the crowd laughed, and he looked as us completely deadpan and said, "Uh, I don't think that's funny." We literally DIED. No, I'm not mis-using literally here; we're dead now, and I'm writing from heaven. Have fun burning to death on earth in 15 years, suckers.

The right wing has done such a good job of making up and propagating lies about him that it's amazing when you actually meet him to see that he's an incredibly engaging, super-intelligent man who is really passionate about trying to save the world from a cataclysm. It is a bitter, bitter irony that a man who can barely read stole painted an engaging scholar like Al Gore as "stiff." For me, "stiff" is someone who can't read "My Wiggly Puppy" without stuttering on the long words.

After the talk I stood in the crowd around Al to just simply touch the man. Honestly, I don't think we wanted to talk to him, we just wanted to use him as a touchstone, and say, "Yes, you're real, and we are connected to you. We're your army."

As people touched him and left he eventually turned towards me and shook my hand in his well-practiced politician's way. I looked him in the eye and said, "Mr. President."

He did the most amazing double-take and his actor's face cracked, and he looked genuinely touched. He stuttered for a second and said, "Th.. thank you!"

I told him I'd cried during his speech, which I had. Not because I was touched, but because I was genuinely scared, and angry, and discouraged at the folly of the world. We all imagine ourselves invincible, right up until the day we day. We can't imagine a world that ends, because it hasn't happened to us before. But that does not mean it could not, and in fact it has before. Jesus, the dinosaurs roamed the earth for WAY LONGER than we have; they must have felt pretty damn cocky. "60 MILLION YEARS, BABY! NOTHING CAN STOP US... oof!"

He looked at my badge, and suddenly recognition lit his face. "Oh, Delicious Monster! I love your web site!"

I basically was like, "Uh, duhh, uh... duhhh... wuh?" I felt like Elaine on Seinfeld and wanted just give him a huge shove and shout, "Get OUT!" but I figured I'd get shot.


I walked downstairs and Peter Gabriel was standing in the entry-way, with two producers talking to him about something. I stood behind them and smiled. Sometimes you're a colleague at TED and sometimes you're just a fan, and I'm just a fan here.

The producers left and I'm alone in a room with Peter Gabriel. I said to him, "Mr. Gabriel, sorry to bother you, but I have wanted to meet you all my life. When I was 15 my mother had cancer and I listened to your CD "So" every single night to get through it. I have every song you've ever recorded and all the bootlegs, including "Secret World Live" and "Live from a Secret World" and "World Secret Live Secret Live"..."

He mostly did what any sane person would do, which was check for exits and suddenly wish he had bodyguards. Actually, he was surprisingly gracious considering how awkward it is to have a stranger come up to you and declare how much they love you. I mean, it's flattering, but you also kind of sit there thinking, "Well, this must be a crushing disappointment for you." Whenever someone introduces themselves to me as a fan I always think I'm supposed to start singing or do something entertaining.

Peter has dealt with this all his life, so he's got a response ready; he just deflects attention. "So, what do you do?"

I was still physically shaking from the Al Gore speech, so I kind of demurred. "Uh, it seems kind of stupid in light of the world ending... I write this silly Mac software."

"Oh, yes, what's it do?"

"Well, uh, it catalogs your stuff... your DVDs and books..."

"Oh! We just got that in our studio! It's really cool, we were all gathered around the other day playing with it and seeing if we could stump it."

"Get OUT!" Ok, I didn't really say that.



Anonymous John said...

The moral of the story: old people think Delicious Library is a magical oracle of all media knowledge.

February 23, 2006 11:06 AM

Anonymous Scott said...

John - LOL, that was great.

Actually, I think the moral of the story is that if you work your ass off, you can positively affect people you admire, which is really a great thing.

February 23, 2006 11:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of use would stammer just to talk with you.

February 23, 2006 11:28 AM

Blogger William Henderson said...

Great post...

February 23, 2006 11:33 AM

Blogger Mike Lee said...

There's an important lesson here.

One of my favorite genres of book is history, especially science history, because I grew up being taught that people like Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison were not only perfect, but born perfect. I think that was somehow meant to inspire me, but really it just made me feel inferior. It's like, I'm crap compared to Thomas Edison, so I guess there's no sense in trying.

When you actually do the research you find out how imperfect, boneheaded, dishonest or just plain weird all the "Great Men" really were. In other words, they were humans — stupid, petty people, like the rest of us. I actually find that inspiring, because it's like, "Oh, he was human? Wait... I'M human. Oh man, I could totally become a Great Man just like them!"

Although it gets harder to meet your heroes as you get older, I wouldn't be surprised if Al Gore was on the phone saying "Tipper, you won't BELIEVE who I met at TED!" about Jeff Bezos, or LP, or Nicolas Negroponte, or who knows. Meeting your heroes and finding out they are, in fact, real people, rather than perfect amalgams created by the media to sell soft drinks, is important.

Even heroes have heroes, because heroes are human, and that's amazing. After all, if Al Gore farts, maybe I CAN save the world from Global Warming.

February 23, 2006 12:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is pretty cool getting to meet well-known people and finding out they're pretty normal. I had the pleasure of flying Jeff Bezos to San Jose a few years back.

And about global warming: what do you think ended the last ice age? Do you really think you can stop it? Good luck to you.

February 23, 2006 12:18 PM

Anonymous Jameson H said...

Great post! I wish that I had time to be there this year.

So what do you do when strangers profess their passion for your creations?

February 23, 2006 12:24 PM

Blogger RAB said...

I can vicariously enjoy your thrill at being recognized by Al Gore and Peter Gabriel...not only because these guys are two of my heroes as well, but because there's nothing to compare with the experience of having someone you admire acknowledge your work. I've had this happen with considerably less famous people; it's such a powerful but specific feeling that we don't really have any words to describe it.

But what I want to THANK you for is being the guy who shook hands with Gore and called him "Mr. President." He's deserved that every day for the past five years and four months. I'm sure other people have done it too, but I'm pleased just to be able to thank someone for doing it.

February 23, 2006 1:27 PM

Anonymous manuel martensen said...

i wish your story would go on for some more 15 minutes or something, it ended too quickly. mean: i very enjoyed it!

February 23, 2006 1:49 PM

Blogger Amy said...

I may not know Al Gore, but I know some of the climate scientists who are being more or less muzzled. It's distressing. This is a pretty good (and free to access) article on the topic -- I wonder if Al Gore mentioned it? WSJ article: Statement Acknowledges Some Government Scientists See Link to Global Warming

February 23, 2006 3:00 PM

Anonymous hnhansen said...


I think you meant "right up until the day we die" instead of "right up until the day we day".

Otherwise, very uplifting.

February 23, 2006 3:18 PM

Anonymous Nico Rohrbach said...

If someone is interested, you can find a recording of the speech of Al Gore on the following website.


Tank you Wil, for your notes on TED.

February 24, 2006 8:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, your post led to a most pleasing vicarious moment for me... I thank you.

February 24, 2006 9:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Al Gore is a pro at selling a point of view. Spend some time with a few real climatologists before you take a politician's word that our Doom is Imminent.


February 24, 2006 8:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya' know - if everything that Al said were to come true, we would still survive. We're worse than cockroaches that way...

February 24, 2006 9:34 PM

Blogger The Nog said...

Disagreeing with others is fine, but dismissing them with a sneering term like "The Right Wing" is just as bad as painting Al Gore as a "Starry-Eyed Liberal", don't you think?

Of course Al Gore has tons of sources, just as those who disagree with him also have their tons of sources. And though a lot of scientists in the media believe we're the cause of climate change, they also said in the 70s that we'd be in a new Ice Age by now. Personally, when I look at the data which shows that we're responsible for less than 1% of the greenhouse gases actually present in the atmosphere (the rest comes from natural exchange of sea vapors and, most of all, things like volcanoes), I begin to wonder how much of an impact we actually have, since correlation does not i imply causality.

Anyway, cool blog post that makes you think and should inspire some interesting discussion between various viewpoints (it's obvious where I stand...).

February 24, 2006 10:26 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

JCR: Some politicians are just genuinely worried people. Al Gore is not running for anything. Unlike George Bush when he denies greenhouse gases, Al and his cronies have nothing to gain from us reducing our CO2 output.

It's kind of an insult for you to assume I'm snowed under by any charismatic figure. For example, GHB has been said to have charisma, but he's an idiot in any language.

The Nog: The problem is, you're quoting exactly what the administration wants you to -- that the Greenhouse effect is a "theory" and that scientists disagree.

In fact, 100% for 700+ peer-reviewed articles on the climate in the last many years agree with the "theory" of global warming. There IS NO DATA to support the other side. The problem is that, in the mainstream press, written by laymen, they feel they always give equal time to both sides, even when one is patently wrong.

Believe the bullshit and die.


February 25, 2006 3:44 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Al and his cronies have nothing to gain from us reducing our CO2 output."


They have a great deal to gain: jobs in the bureaucracy, "consulting" engagements, lecture fees, contributions to the "sky is falling" societies, etc. Environmentalism is as much of a goldmine as "helping the poor" ever was.

Gore might be a nice guy and he might even mean well, but he's not a scientist. He's a politician with a position to promote, and he will of course pick and choose among the available opinions to find those that support his position.

The first "earth day" opened with dire warnings of an impending ice age. I'm rather skeptical of that scenario, too.

In the words of H.L. Mencken: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed--and hence clamorous to be led to safety--by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

"There IS NO DATA to support the other side."

That's a rather dogmatic proclamation there, Wil. Have you checked?


February 25, 2006 12:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil, first of all; I am a fan, I love the work you've done since the NeXT days. It's nice that you got a chance to Gush over the "important people" at TED.

However, you are completely out of touch with reality. You may have sat there and listened to Al Gore spout off about the impending doom of global warming and I am sure he sounded off with a large number of statements being presented as "facts" but you need to independently verify those so called "facts"!

It is not logical to believe that we as humans can do anything about the environment except adapt to changes. A single volcano eruption, such as the 1991 Philippines Mt Pinatubo released more pollution then all the automobiles on earth since their invention! Mt St. Helens, which is currently active, has spewed more the twice the pollution of the entire Washington state history. In 1943 the Mexican volcano Paricutin literally split the ground beneath a farmers feet and grew from his field to 1,100 feet within a year! It is also thought that the entire Yellowstone national park is one huge super volcano that might blow and wipe out the United States in a couple of days!

We cannot stop volcanos, we cannot stop the ice from melting, we cannot stop earthquakes, tsunami's, nor hurricanes. All we can do is attempt to reduce our emissions and stop polluting the rivers and air. I agree that we should do more to stop pollution but I also believe it will have little impact on global warming. America is cleaner then third world countries and places like China. Egyptians are throwing dead H5N1 chickens into the Nile river and now the public is in a bottled water panic. Yet the Kyoto treaty would economically punish western countries like the EU and America whose overall pollution is less then third world countries! China is growing by leaps and bounds and their demand for oil and gasoline is only going to expand. BTW, they are following emission standards that are 10 years old. American car companies are producing cars in China that wouldn't pass emission standards in Virginia let alone California!

The sun's activity may have more to do with current weather trends and the natural cooling and warming cycles of the earth. i.e. there were ice ages and warming periods long before man appeared. It was warmer in the middle ages then it is now. In the 1700's we were in an small ice age. We are just now coming out of that ice age and may be entering a new one. The sun spots are going away and the Sun may be cooling down as a result. We were in a recent high activity mode of sun spots for the last couple of decades. Now the spots are just about gone and might remain that way for a long period of time. This may cause an ice age. There is much debate in the scientific community and frankly, no one really knows what is going to happen. I mean we can't even reliably predict the weather more then 5 days. How can we know we only have 15 years left???

The trouble I have with Al Gore is that he is using these questionable "facts" to stir up fear. Then channel that fear to power a political agenda. Fact is, we could all be wiped out any day. It's not worth worrying about. I mean a comet or meteor could hit the earth and wipe out all life in less then a year. Reality is not Hollywood, we won't be able to stop it! There is no Bruce Willis to fly on a military space shuttle to the meteor and drill through an iron ferrite core to blow it up with a nuke!

February 26, 2006 7:52 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


I disagree. Al is not some idiot. He is, in every definition I have of the word, a scientist. He looks at all the available data dispassionately and draws conclusions. He went to Princeton, he studied under PhDs (who first introduced him to global warming), and he still collaborates with those same PhDs to this day.

If your definition of "scientist" is someone who has a PhD in "SCIENCE," then I guess I'm not a computer programmer, either.


Al isn't arguing that we're spewing more pollution in general. He acknowledges and in fact takes joy in the fact that we were able to reverse the horrible damage we had done to our ozone layer, to our lakes, and to our air quality in the 70s.

His point is that there is a VERY CLEAR positive correlation between CO2 levels and the average temperature here on earth, going back tens of thousands and even millions of years. He presents study after study, done from many, many different sources.

Then he points out that in the last twenty years our temperatures have gone up alarmingly quickly, and, SURPRISE, so has our CO2 levels. And, that they are now nearly double anything the earth has seen in record.

You can't both argue that we have fixed our pollution problem but we can't possibly affect the atmosphere. The fact that we fixed such a huge problem before, and that it WAS our fault, says we could have caused this.


But let's back up a second. You postulate that I've been snowed in by a politician, which is a comfortable position for you, because you don't have to do anything.

If you're right, and I work the next twenty years to reduce CO2 emissions, and it turns out we're just going through a little natural burp, well, I'll have wasted part of my life on something that turned out to be silly. No worse than, say, spending your time watching football.

If I'm right, our CO2 emissions are triggering a raise in heat levels that WILL soon cause the polar ice caps to melt -- and, by the way, they already are melting; the US Navy says so, as well as simple observable evidence; they have started breaking up in huge chunks that have never been seen before.

So, if I DO NOT act, we will all die.

It's easier to just say, "You got snowed, dude. Did you check the competing evidence?" But, first, did YOU check the evidence I saw? It's coming out as a movie, soon. You can watch it, then post here and tell me if you think I'm alarmist.

I will (honestly!) bet you $50 you will change your mind. Seriously. I'm so confident that I'll even just take your word for it. Just post here, "I was not convinced" and I'll send you a check. (Of course, you'll have to follow up this original comment you made with something to uniquely identify you, since it was anonymous.)

And, in fact, there was a speaker here at TED last year who spoke on why global warming was NOT our worst threat. (Although he did acknowledge it was scary.)

February 26, 2006 12:45 PM

Blogger Mike Lee said...

A wise man once said, "We've got men. We've got rockets. We've got Saran Wrap. Fix it!"

February 26, 2006 2:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time I see words "we will all die" I die a little inside. And the same goes to the other fanatics who are saying that there is nothing we can do so let's keep on going as usual.

I agree that it is possible, even probable, that we will face a hard time if nothing is done to protect the enviroment but I find it very unrealistic to think that we all will die. How exactly are we all going to die in 15 years if the CO2 levels keep rising?

-- Jussi

February 26, 2006 3:44 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


We are going into completely uncharted territory with our CO2 levels. If the correlation turns out to be causation, then first temperatures will rise to a point where the polar caps will melt, and we'll lose our coasts. This will cause chaos everywhere.

Then temperatures will get to a point where most crops will fail. What was our grain belt will be a desert. This is already happening in other parts of the world, including Africa.

When our crops fail, society will collapse very quickly. Think of how many days it took for the Big Easy to collapse into complete havoc after Katrina hit. Now imagine this government's response to a nationwide disaster.

Pestilence, too, increases as the temperature goes up. The air holds more water, mosquitoes travel easier and into new territories. So, maybe you'll succumb to bird flu instead. Hospitals are really not going to be able to keep up with demand if our economy shuts down, and we're going to be at the tech level of pre-agrarian societies for several years. (Or do you have a farm in your back yard, that will somehow enjoy being 10-20 degrees warmer in the summer?)

So, yes, if you've got a lot of canned goods and a lot of guns, you may survive for a while, until, oh, I dunno, you die of heat stroke eventually. (Oh, were you planning on using your air conditioning?)


Imagine that an asteroid is coming towards the earth, and if it hits, we all die. There are certainly situations in which "we all die" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

I do not see the harm in saying it 30 years before it happens, while we still have a chance to change things. We've got, at current estimates, ten years to get things under control, or we're going to be on an irreversible course.

We don't _know_ this, of course. You can't really _know_ anything if you're a scientist. For example, I don't _know_ you are really you. You could be someone pretending to be you on the net. I could meet you, but then you could be a robot. I could take you apart, but you could be a space alien designed to look just like humans. Or you could be a figment of my imagination.

At some point, it becomes idiotic to speculate. You say, "look, the PREPONDERANCE of evidence is in favor of me existing, so why don't we just act as if this is a fact and move on."

Conservatives and religious types have used the uncertainty built into science for years as a way to push their agenda. "Look, evolution is a THEORY, there's no total and complete PROOF, therefore you must believe in god, even though there's no evidence at ALL for his existence (and by definition cannot be)."

Now oil companies use it as a way to tell people to stay the course. They're going to be dead anyways by the time the earth changes. It's easier for them to hide their heads in the sand, cover their ears, and sing about all the money they are making.

February 26, 2006 6:06 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but did you just state that you consider Al Gore to be a scientist? Then back it up by saying, if All Gore's not a scientist then you're not a programmer?

Have you lost your marbles? There are a large variety of educational paths to becoming a scientist with a specialized PhD. Software programming is a very young discipline and there is no official educational path to becoming a real software engineer along with traditional engineering certifications, etc. Which is why software programmers are not allowed to build bridges and thank God for that. There are however Computer Scientists with PhD's.

So ya, Al Gore is not a scientist and he didn't "Invent the Internet" either. (yeah I know, that's a questionable quote). Sorry, but I am not going to let myself gush whenever Al Gore walks by. If he still held office, then he works for me. He is a public servant. Forgive me, if I am not gonna rollover and swallow whatever Al Gore says hook line and sinker. I really don't care if he went to Princeton. I have more respect for people like you Wil then I have for Al Gore. I just don't agree with your politics.

What I want is to be able to examine all that research for myself. But that's not possible because it's all proprietary scientific journals and that costs a lot of money to subscribe. Also I want to know the background of those so called "scientists". I want to know where they got the funding for their research and I want to know if they have membership to questionable groups that might cause a conflict of interest. i.e. are they a member of the Sierra Club or Greenpeace and did those groups contribute funding to their research or otherwise wine and dine and bribe the scientist. Hey, if a California Republican and do it so can a scientist. Oh yeah, remember that Korean cloning scandal? Just because someones a scientist, doesn't make them the ultimate authority nor does it ensure their moral and ethical foundations.

I am not arguing the CO2 levels at all. i.e. they come from natural sources far larger then our insignificant worldwide vehicular emissions. i.e. Volcano's are a big one. Forrest Fires is another one. Both of which have nothing to do with man. i.e. lightening could start a forrest fire, it's not always some hippie smoking pot in the woods, getting careless with a joint!

We can make a small insignificant difference by cleaning a few streams, rivers, lakes, and the localized air quality. Yeah, we should be clean and not litter and not start forrest fires, etc. Companies should not dump chemicals improperly. Forests should not be clear cut without planting new growth.

Shipley Quote: "But, first, did YOU check the evidence I saw? It's coming out as a movie, soon." Oooh a movie! Is that gonna be like the "The Day After Tomorrow"? Try a google search on Al Gore and the title of that movie. Then you get a idea of where I'm coming from. Al made it sound like he believed that the movie represented what could happen and it's a complete fantasy! Sorry, but I don't make my judgements based on movies or even so called "Documentaries" such as "Bowling for Columbine" or "Fahrenheit 9/11". Nor do I read things like "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" which is still being considered the truth by racist anti-semitic Jew hating Arabs and Persians even though it was a proved fake at the turn of the century.

As far as my Anonymous status, well perhaps I'll register but frankly, I am just wasting my time. Of course, if my comments make you leap out of your chair and shout then it might be worth it. All that means is I made an impact, even if all it did was upset you... No offense Wil, I still love your work; but I will stop here and agree to disagree...

February 28, 2006 7:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil, thanks for the explanation. The scenario you described is about the extreme end of what I was thinking when I wrote "will face hard time". That would be an end of an era, death of the lifestyle we are living in the western world, but not a complete destruction of the human kind.

If the temperature rises to the level when crops can't grow you could try to replace them with something that is more tolerant or move the farming industry north (or south for you in the southern hemisphere). Yes, it would cost, yes, the yearly harvest could be decreased noticeably at least for some time, but it's not that if the temperatures go up and the current fields become a desert there is nothing to eat.

Sure if the food production capacity of the warmer earth would be less than the amount of animals (including humans) it would lead to famine, suffering, mass deaths and probably wars. Until an equilibrium would be found again.

I don't know what is going to happen either, but perhaps I do have a bit more faith (or stupidity/ignorance) that the situation will ultimately be fixed somehow, not by us humans perhaps but mother nature.

-- Jussi

March 01, 2006 4:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I didn't say that Al was an idiot, I said he's a politician who is selling a point of view. There are people on the other side of the question who are at least as well qualified to judge the data, who have come to different conclusions.


March 01, 2006 7:54 PM

Blogger Bill said...

nog: The "In the 70s scientists said it would get colder!" crap has been debunked so many times it's not funny. What is it with you wingers, anyway? See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=94, if you're interested in what was actually said, which I doubt.

April 04, 2006 11:37 AM

Anonymous ylan said...

Late comment, but check 'dis owt:


Al Gore isn't stupid. He is just sucked in, as I was!

Humbly, Ylan

March 19, 2007 1:53 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Just because you saw a different show on TV doesn't mean that show is right, or that you were 'sucked in'.

Do some research on the guy who made that documentary. Turns out, he has a long, long history of making 'documentaries' that just HAPPEN to be about how the environmentalists are wrong. ABOUT EVERYTHING.



March 19, 2007 2:26 AM


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