Monday, July 18, 2005

Great Ideas

Many people think of Henry David Thoreau as a congenital slacker whose mama brought him lunches in the woods while he wrote. Actually, according to a book I read ages ago (and probably remember spottily) it was Thoreau who invented the now indispensable Pencil With An Eraser Attached To The Latter Tip. Told that he should patent it and set up a factory to make a pile of money, he said something appropriately lapidary like: "I would not do again and again what I have already done once." Whoah. That blew me away when I was twenty. I've pretty much lived my life subsequently on that model, coming up with brilliant ideas and scattering them over the land in spasms of insouciant fecundity, while holding down a modest Taiwan English teacher's job. I'm not really talking about the idea I had immediately in the wake of reading the Thoreau anecdote – although I still think the can opener with an eraser on the tip is a keeper.

My latest great idea (and I'm actually half-serious about this one) came to me on a flight last year from L.A. to Austin. I was sitting there in my uncomfortable window seat, looking down as all these fascinating topographical features scrolled by, with occasional nameless urban outbreaks, and I had this brainstorm - a kind of braintyphoon, actually: what if you had a camera on the underside of the plane and filmed the entire stretch from L.A. to Austin; then, when you put it on film, you provided a streamer with a constant strand of information telling people just what they were looking at? They could watch it in their own homes, instead of in a cramped airplane seat! Or how about in a bar? (Marketing note - People who own bars are more likely to invest in something like this, because they're usually heavy drinkers.) Instead of watching some lame sit-com, you'd pop in "Chicago to Phoenix". Unlike a show, it doesn't interrupt conversation – it moves at its own pace, in real time, and you can sip your beer and talk about Manicheanism or whatever and kind of check in now and then at your leisure and see just where you are.

Pretty cool, huh? Just attribute it to Betelnutblogger when you're making your initial investment, and give me a symbolic ten percent cut of all profits, and I think we're still friends. There was this gunner on the Brazilian basketball team years ago who, after scoring about fifty points one night when his team lost, was asked by a reporter if he thought his teammates resented his taking so many shots and never passing the ball. His response was: "Some people are meant to play the piano; some people are meant to carry the piano up the stairs." No offense, amigo, but that's kind of my approach: you do the bricks and mortar work, here, all right? I'm an idea man. Just give me a little something to wet my beak when you get rich, eh?