Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

President Obama should declare ANWR a National Monument

The determination of the powerful oil lobby to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), “the country’s largest and most untamed refuge,” (source later) has bothered me for many, many years.  When you look at a list of our country’s NWRs, they’re really the last rugged, unspoiled places in the country.  For example, in Georgia, we have the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR).  Perhaps 8 years ago, I imagined how horrifying it would be if companies were allowed to bring equipment in to drill in ONWR, or otherwise disrupt the wilderness to recover some limited quantities of finite resources.

That’s why I’ve been determined to protect ANWR, which one day I’ll hopefully be lucky enough to see.  I don’t know if you realized this, but President Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to protect ANWR forever.  He could declare it a National Monument, which would make it impossible for companies to ever drill there.

Here is more information from today’s newspaper about the choice the President could make.  And here is a page with information on previous Presidents and the National Monuments they created.  The history of National Monuments dates back to Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who was extremely committed to setting aside unspoiled public land for future generations.

It’s interesting that Alaska has a unique culture where oil exploration is encouraged, even by many of its citizens.  But that culture has had a devastating impact on some of Alaska’s land already.  Many reading this will remember the horrible Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound, AK.  And just a few years ago, in 2006, more than 200,000 gallons of oil were spilled in Prudhoe Bay, AK; that event was called “massive.”

As a National Wildlife Refuge, the ANWR land already belongs to all the people of this great country. It doesn’t belong just to the people of Alaska, and it certainly shouldn’t be controlled by any corporate interests.  It’s time that we urge the President to take further steps to ensure that this part of Alaska can never be ruined.

Please join more than 80 members of Congress, 170 scientists, 300 businesses and organizations, and 20+ religious organizations and write to the President about protecting ANWR.  I strongly believe the White House needs actual letters, not emails, on this critical issue.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

@MazdaRacing

This is a memoir about my involvement in establishing and running the @MazdaRacing Twitter feed.  It will be one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written, as I explore the thoughts behind a gift I was eager to give.  I hope you’ll stay with me, but I’ll understand if you are less enthusiastic about this subject than I. 

I’ve broken this down into sections.  Maybe, if you don’t have all day but you cared about @MazdaRacing at all, you’ll skip to the last section or two.

Background

Mazda’s involvement in racing (and dearest to my heart, in open wheel racing) is arguably unprecedented.  Very few manufacturers of parts or vehicles have done more for racers in North America than Mazda has in the last half-decade.

If you’re familiar with the Mazdaspeed Driver Development ladder, then you already know its impact.  If not, then I’ll summarize that Mazda’s motorsports legacy is long and storied, but in recent years, it’s become even more legendary.  The reason is the company’s conscious, dedicated, heartfelt, and expensive effort to ensure that young drivers can progress from the very lowest levels of racing — go karts — to the upper levels or sports car and open wheel racing, on talent, passion, and hard work alone.  As a racer wins at each level up the “ladder,” Mazda has been awarding full scholarships to the next level.  It’s impossible to overstate the peace of mind this brings to the winning racers, who are guaranteed a spot on an ever smaller playing field that has been nightmarish to try to attain on one’s own.

If you have any interest whatsoever in racing — including the environmentally friendly variety that Mazda is calling “sustainable Zoom Zoom” — then you can and should read more about these topics at Mazdaspeed’s official website.  However, I should also point out: Mazda prides itself on having more of its vehicles racing on road courses on any given weekend than any other manufacturer.

Getting to know Twitter

I’ll now transition to my central reason for writing this article.

I began to use Twitter personally in mid-2008.  That year, and the beginning of 2009, was tumultuous for open wheel racing, due to the sale of the top-level Champ Car World Series to IndyCar, and what can fairly be described as a difficult transition process.  The implications were extremely far-reaching, as I’ll touch on a bit more later.

Like many people, I noticed the following amazing strengths about Twitter:

  • Usable from any mobile device that had text messaging ability
  • Ability to deliver real-time information in very “digestible,” short messages, limited only by the author’s creative use of abbreviations, characters, and some tools like URL shorteners

Obviously, Twitter was an even deeper tool, but both of the above concepts intrigued me as a racing fan.  I noticed that relatively few “Twitter feeds” at the time were covering motorsports, and no feed was consistently paying attention to the dedication of Mazda that I mentioned earlier.

It seemed obvious that using short-burst messaging, often directly from the track, to fans with ANY Internet-enabled device was a winning concept.  The fans needn’t be in front of a TV, or even on their computers.  They just needed to be carrying a cell phone with SMS.

Establishing @MazdaRacing

Another thing that seemed obvious was that Twitter’s millions of new followers were snatching up Twitter user names at remarkable speed.  I checked my favorite brand names often, and as a race fan, naturally did some checking to see if Mazda had secured a name specifically for their racing efforts.

And so it was that in early 2009, I discovered that an unrelated individual had already grabbed the Twitter name “MAZDASPEED,” and wasn’t “tweeting” (messaging) about the company’s racing efforts at all.  This disappointed me, because Mazda’s pride at being the marque with the most cars on road courses on any given weekend was a fantastic concept for a Twitter feed.  But anyone looking up their famous racing brand name would see some random personal “tweets.”

Thinking that perhaps Mazda would still initiate their own feed, I waited until March, 2009, on the weekend that was one of the most important in all of racing: the legendary 12 hours of Sebring.  Two of Mazda’s open wheel series, the Atlantic Championship and Star Mazda, were competing on Friday, March 20th.  The next day would see two turbocharged, Mazda-powered cars compete in the American Le Mans series.

That Friday morning, I checked one last time to see if anyone was going to cover the Sebring action live on Twitter, and when it wasn’t happening, I secured the @MazdaRacing name, purchased and set up a very simple website to point to that address (www.MazdaRacingNews.com), and obtained a generic Gmail account to link everything together.*  By the time the Star Mazda cars got under way, I was all set up to cover all the action, and I did just that.

And so it all began with this Tweet: ”This Twitter presence is in honor of Mazda’s racing ladder. For any updates, send an @ message or e-mail me at mazdaladder@gmail.com.”

Mazda’s commitment to have more of its cars on road courses than any other brand was inspiring.  Its commitment to making sure young racers could attain their dream, paid in full, was even more powerful.  And my initial dream that anyone in the world could use any Internet device to follow any of those races has essentially come true. 

Costs and rewards

Presuming that someone is curious about the process of creating and managing a niche-brand, truly real-time Twitter feed with about 2,700 followers, one of her questions might be, “did Mazda authorize this or compensate you?”  I’ve been asked this question on occasion in various circles, so I think it’s worth discussing.

Mazda, as a corporation, has approximately two or three full-time employees who attend important North American racing events outside of California.  These folks, who I’ve met, are passionate, indeed nearly obsessive about the principles I’ve discussed earlier.  They also have other assistance from paid marketing / social media contractors.  The employees are focused on two main areas:

  1. Ensuring a viable ladder for the young racers; this also includes providing well-rounded driver training on the track, and in sponsorship/media relations
  2. Proving to Mazda corporate how important racing is for the success of the company’s street cars (and vice versa)

I understood all this, and when I chose to establish Mazda’s motorsports presence, I did it as my own gift in response to the gifts they’ve given to racers.  I also explained to these Mazda folks – and others – that I would relinquish @MazdaRacing and all associated resources to them at any time of their choosing, at no cost.

Since March, 2009, I have absorbed all of the costs of running @MazdaRacing and MazdaRacingNews.com.  I paid my own way at tracks.  I even pioneered the concept of Twitter contests to win Mazda racing memorabilia, which I paid for and shipped with my own funds.  I believe Mazda stepped up their involvement in racing at a crucial time, and provided as much stability as was possible in the period from 2008 through the present.  It was my intent to provide the same stability in return.

As for rewards, I had access to a hospitality suite on one occasion, where I got some wonderful memorabilia, and I attended an awards banquet as Mazda’s guest.  Again, this is more than what I expected.

But the real rewards are more lasting.  I have an increased awareness of Twitter trends, and exposure to so many desktop and mobile tools that have allowed me to bring Mazda racing to devices all over the world.  And it’s a race fan’s dream to be able to converse with team owners, racers, and other fans, while enjoying some fantastic events. 

Here are just some of the series I’ve been able to cover:

  • Skip Barber National Championship presented by Mazda
  • Star Mazda
  • USF2000 powered by Mazda
  • Grand-Am
  • American Le Mans
  • Formula Drift
  • World Challenge
  • Trans-Am
  • and the Atlantic Championship

Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • Mazda winning the GT class in the famous 24 Hours of Daytona this year
  • Mazda, via Dyson Racing, winning overall in an American Le Mans (ALMS) race at Mid-Ohio this year
  • Seeing Mazda be the first manufacturer to bring sustainable iso-butanol fuel into ALMS
  • Covering every session of the Atlantic Championship in 2009

Another reward: it’s a small world, and the racing world is even smaller.  My wife started racing in 2004, and shortly thereafter, she had a car built for her by a gentleman from HyperSport Engineering.  HyperSport Engineering is the team that’s provided the foundation for Patrick Dempsey’s racing career, which now sees him owning his own Grand-Am team.  The same gentleman who built my wife’s car has gotten some great press this year as a result of Dempsey’s success.

And finally, if you’re reading this, then it’s probable that you’ve been part of my reward also.  @MazdaRacing has received countless Twitter messages since 2009, and I’ve enjoyed getting answers, responding, and sometimes forwarding you to other sources.  Mostly, I’ve enjoyed how easy it is to connect people to each other on Twitter, exposing racers to other racers or sponsors they may not have known.

Giving up @MazdaRacing

Looking back, it’s amazing to know that I have written approximately 476,000 words about Mazda motorsports in two racing seasons.  As you’ve guessed, the reason for me putting these thoughts into writing has been because it’s time for my involvement with @MazdaRacing to be minimal, or non-existent.  Assuming you’re interested in reasons, I can offer a couple:

  • The aforementioned expense is not something I can cover indefinitely, with other projects that need my attention
  • The amount of time spent during race weekends – which occur constantly in a world where Mazda is a leading road course brand – is not sustainable with other projects
  • The continuing hiatus of the Atlantic Championship series**

And the big one: some race tracks still have horrific communications infrastructures, even when paying out of one’s own pocket for high speed Internet access.  When not in hospitality, it is often impossible to provide real-time information due to bandwidth overload: every other person with a cell phone and/or laptop is competing to send information.

So, I’ve now notified Mazda employees and contractors about relinquishing the feed into their control.  It won’t cost a thing for them to inherit the web presence I wanted them to have for their racing efforts.

As for me, I’m a much stronger communicator and networker thanks to taking on this project.  I’ll always be happy to advise Mazda – and specific racers and teams – on lessons learned.  I would love to think that Mazda might be considered a leader in Twitter motorsports reporting, and it was my intent to leave when that occurred.  Therefore, with 13 years of management experience under my belt, @MazdaRacing was one of my biggest, and most rewarding, leadership challenges yet.

Thank you so much. Can we still be friends?

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated every second of this project.  With @MazdaRacing almost in the rear-view mirror, I’m excited to focus on some other projects that I believe have extremely far-reaching potential.

If you read all these words – especially if you were one of those who read most of my 476,000 words of Tweeted Mazda content – it’s impossible to put into words how much I appreciate you also.  This article has seemed so self-focused, and I hope its length and self-referentiality hasn’t turned you off.

I would love to hear from you.  Please consider talking to me at @JayInAtlanta.  Heck, even consider partnering with me on other things.

Oh, wait!  Can you hear that?  I sure can.  It’s the sound of pure Zoom Zoom.

—————————————————————

* The lightning-quick speed that enabled me to purchase and set up a fully functioning website in under an hour was brought to me by my long-time host, www.IncredibleHost.com.  No, I don’t get any compensation from telling you that, I just love the service by “Reg” and the team.

** I mentioned earlier that the transition caused by the purchase of Champ Car by IndyCar had far-reaching implications.  The Atlantic Championship, called by other names but historic and decades old, has been on hiatus since earlier this year, largely a victim of that transition process.  Atlantic’s hiatus has left a hole in open wheel racing, and I won’t lie, it’s left a hole in my motivation for covering Mazda open wheel weekends.  In under three years — February 2008 to now — seeing two series disappear that were on my wife’s dream path as a professional racer has been an emotional earthquake.

Dreaming of a virtual city emporium

During the night of September 29th-30th, 2007, I had a very vivid dream about another possible development regarding virtual cities, and the public’s interaction with them. 
 
Previously I have written on this blog about my hope for "off the shelf" virtual cities, allowing end users to purchase cities that they could use in conjunction with home, office, or classroom computers and virtual immersion equipment (glasses and equipment to sense head movement are available today at fine prices).  This not-too-distant frontier will hopefully allow students, urban planners, the elderly, and the handicapped to instantly "visit" places that they could not practically see in real life.  These off the shelf cities would allow interaction with interiors like museums, famous signature outdoor events, and other delights.
 
However, in my dream, I experienced a virtual city emporium of sorts!  Perhaps the size of the Mall of America (Minneapolis) or Eaton Centre (Toronto), this was in effect an amusement park of virtual cities projected onto walls of completely blackwalled rooms.  The visitors (which in my dream included myself, my wife, and a couple friends) can choose to travel to Los Angeles, Paris, New York, and other destinations by just walking into specific sections of the emporium.  A single entrance fee was required, and add-ons were available on the top level (see below).
 
For example, in my dream my entire party visited New York, which had a bridge in the center of a large black room, but with 3d projection on all surfaces of a virtual city (with pedestrians in the distance and landmarks), it was as if we were walking across an actual city bridge.  A few rooms over was Los Angeles in much the same vein.  And there was a top floor which contained huge booths with flat-panels of more than 100 inches, where visitors could take their pick of any virtual experience.
 
Interestingly, aside from the true darkness, with projected light trying to provide a sense of daytime, which was somewhat eerie, there was one haunting feature that I understood upon waking but which was jarring in the dream.  The emporium had its own police force which patrolled the cities as well, to prevent real crime in virtual environments.  Sirens did go off and doors in the black walls opened when police had to enter and exit.
 
I think with the rapidity of virtual city development on home computers and major geographic servers, this vision could be implemented today, using data from such common sources as Microsoft’s spectacularly evolving Virtual Earth (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=75722), or gaming software.  However, in 10 years, places like these may be commonly available for our amusement.
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