What do James Cameron, Tim Ferriss, and a lost wallet have in common?

Just over a week ago I had the amazing opportunity to spend some moments with James Cameron, Tim Ferriss, and a few other notables in support of the X PRIZE Foundation. To begin with, I learned a lot about the X PRIZE Foundation itself. I had always known its name for the Ansari X Prize in which $10,000,000 was offered to the first NGO to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. I had no idea that the concept of encouraging quantum leaps in developments of all areas is what the Foundation had evolved into. That alone was worth the trip out to Southern California!

Taking a brief moment of one on one time with James Cameron I also had a chance to learn a little more about his own adventure into the ‘deep space’ of the ocean. I knew he was working on a personal project to build a manned craft to visit the deepest part of the ocean floor. The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is 10,924 meters (35,840 feet) below sea level. That is an astounding 6.8 miles under water. Amazingly the first, and only successful, manned trip to this depth occurred on January 23, 1960 by two hydronaunts aboard the The Bathyscaphe Trieste. It was a huge (51 t, 60′ long) sub which I believe was tethered. It took something like 5 hours to reach bottom and only stayed down for around 20 minutes – and this after part of it blew in from the tremendous pressures.

James is looking at a project that is obviously taking advantage of all of the developments in materials over the past 50 years and is targeting a completion of his undertaking in either late 2011 or early 2012. I have not done the math, yet I wondered what test facilities are available for such a project considering how unusual the environment this sub will need to be operating in. James said his entire pressure vessel fits inside the one place he knows about that has a 60″ in diameter by around 8′ deep testing cylinder. When asked about the ballasts and power, for not only a successful descent but also a safe return, he mention the fact that a lot of the foams and such that are specced to work at such depths turn out not to, and a lot of the work he is going through deals with solving these problems as well. The planned journey to the bottom is a short 70 minutes and given the positioning of the pilot, and the direct viewing ability, a lot of the observation will be accomplished via an HD camera. As if there would be someone else destined for the job, I did ask who the pilot would be and it will indeed be James himself.

Perhaps it is my mild claustrophobia but I simply cannot imagine going down to that depth completely alone. He will be untethered (as he mentioned that in itself is a major obstacle to be avoided given the tremendous length of cable needed complicated by shifting currents and so on) and there will be no communication with the surface. Unlike space the only way to keep a data stream in place that bridges that much salt water is through the use of a tether. I wish him the best of luck on the journey and truly wish I could be there to witness it if only waiting for what I am sure would seem like an eternity on the surface. Peter Diamandis joked about having an X PRIZE for such an achievement as the answer for James is the Foundation does not offer prizes for work that is going to be done anyway without them.

James’ love for exploration has always been present. When he started looking at the Titanic story there was an opportunity to spend ‘X’ millions of dollars on CG to do the present day scenes of exploring the depths of the wreck or spend the same ‘X’ millions of dollars and do it for real. Hence, the reason for making the movie in the first place – as an excuse to dive the wreck in person. Well, okay, perhaps not the total reason but certainly a wonderful side benefit that has turned into an ongoing passion.

When asked about Avatar he is evaluating the idea of two sequels to be filmed at the same time. On the current 3D craze he says you can tell how movies are using the technology when it comes to branding. He made ‘Avatar’ not ‘Avatar 3D’. For his film the technology was used to take you one step closer to experiencing a world that bridged the science fiction dreams of his youth combined with a sensitivity of the environment and the sustainability the of the future. I also asked about looking back at his previous films and if he had any thoughts about what is normally not possible in the film business (unless you count remakes) – the concept of a bug fix version. His basic answer is you cannot look back but with that said what could be done with the final sequence of the Abyss with the ship rising to the surface and with the monster in Alien would be simply amazing utilizing today’s technologies.

JR and Tim Ferriss

Though I ended up spending more time with James Cameron than I would have imagined I was actually more excited to be meeting Tim Ferriss in person. I felt like a dork getting my copy of the ‘4-Hour Work Week‘ signed and taking a photo with the life experimenter extraordinaire but when it came down to business it was fun to compare my Contour HD with his GoPro. Frak! Just when I thought I had the greatest compact sports focused camcorder I see something perhaps even more amazing – and waterproof? This might just turn into a must have! I cannot wait to see what the result of his shooting is to make a direct comparison under obviously similar circumstances.

4-Hour Work Week

Okay, and what circumstances brought us all together in support of the X PRIZE Foundation? Another chance to go Zero-G! Based on the tremendous experience I had the first time around with Buzz Aldrin this was something I just could not pass on doing again. The second time around I experimented a lot more: I spent most of the pulls sitting up as opposed to lying down (the suggested position). I did a number of spinning tumbles becoming quite disorientated at the end of them when ‘feet down’ was called. Though I did not brave it myself I did see Tim make an interesting attempt at wearing a water goggle. You see in zero-G if you squirt water into your eye socket it just stays there which I am sure is an interesting effect when trying to look at the world from the other side. For me, maybe that is something I will try on my next flight! The real difference on this flight was being able to observe more of my surroundings while still being able to participate. The unfortunate similarity with my first flight, however, is that it all still went by in the blink of an eye.

JR in Zero-G

So what about the lost wallet? Well, that was there for the journey too – as much as something that is truly lost could ever be that is. Upon landing at LAX and getting on the rental car shuttle I found myself reaching for something that was no longer there. My best guess is it worked itself free during my squirming to get comfortable on a late night flight and someone found it, cashed it, and dumped it. It is only a guess but it is the best one I have since a call to the airline turned up nothing and I cannot imagine that something more nefarious happened as due to the late hour there were not many people around anywhere close to me. I will save the longer story for a separate entry but the bottom line is somehow everything still came together for an unforgettable experience.

The below is just a very short video from the flight – check back later for hopefully a longer version!