Your Dad, sister and cousin, Christmas Eve, Marostica Italy.
Your Dad, sister and cousin, Christmas Eve, Marostica Italy.
Sunday morning reminiscence – cinque Terre c.1999
We stir from sleep. languid but rested; awakened by the ferry leaving Manarola for Rio Maggiore. On our balcony we hear the hotel service laying out our breakfast. Cappucinos, fresh bread, berries, jam, yogurt and mueslix. The disembodied sounds of human industry float to us on the slight breeze. Snippets of Italian conversation, the clink of breakfast dishes. The sea is a flat plane of blue glass far below. A cat drops to our balcony from the one above, mewing for milk. Later, we will walk down the narrow streets through town to the rocky beach, where we will hit our blankets like soldiers under small arms fire.
Dylan, your first direct experience of Italy will be this Christmas. We can not wait to see how much your Italian DNA responds to the rhythm of Italian life. The Piazza awaits!
Last week I found myself sitting in a seat, from which Lockheed Martin scientists control the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter. I continue to reflect back on that moment, feeling the immensity of time and space between the deceptively mundane Dell keyboard and monitor in front of me there in Deer Creek, Co, and the relatively small space craft dutifully orbiting the red planet, currently over a hundred million kilometers away. Behind me, on a pillar, was a quote from the author of “The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint- Exupéry.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks and work; but, rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
There is a lesson here for the human race, for where and why we focus our imaginations in order to compel each of us to live up to the best that is in us. I continue to marvel at the transformative ability of our longing for space.
I also met the engineers who have created the In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) machine. This is a machine that extracts iron oxide soils like those found on the Moon and Mars, and converts it into oxygen. I reached out my hand there and touched it. Trying to peer into the future. The pieces are coming together. We may yet become a space faring civilization before the Earth is destroyed. I expect you will one day be there, Dylan, with your sister beside you, watching the tiny dot of the Sun rise and set from a humanity-transformed Martian landscape and atmosphere.
I hope your Mom and I can be there with you too, even if only in dreams.
Live long and prosper,
Today is my birthday. Your Mom wanted to throw me one of her famous themed parties; a reggae party complete with band and themed food, tiki torches and about 60 of our friends. After gazing deeply in her sleep deprived eyes a few weeks ago I called it off. Frankly, you are sapping her life energy at an alarming pace. The way I see it, you owe me a kick ass reggae party some time in the future. I will add it to the list.
You really aren’t a difficult child on the scale of tales we have heard from other parents. You have a peculiarly binary nature. You are either completely content and smiling and devastatingly handsome to an extent that has us contemplating calling a Hollywood agent; or you are frantically screaming and impersonating those Martian creatures from Mars Attacks. Seriously, we are thinking about recording you alternating between barking and screaming so we can play it back for the satanic message you are no doubt channeling.
Today I was sitting with you on the front porch watching the blue birds feed their babies in the white bird house we erected this Spring. I found myself wondering if those birds experience the same alternating levels of hopeless frustration and ineffable joy of parenthood that we are. And I contemplated whether or not this question will have been solved by the time you have children. Perhaps by then we will have genetically engineered designer babies with little color coded dash boards on their bellies that clearly indicate the baby state. Then parents will know exactly the source of the problem and what measures to take to restore the baby to a docile contented state.
Maybe you will play some role in the discovery of this biotech. But perhaps your time will be better spent executing my design for babies with chlorophyll skin, so that we can convert energy from the sun directly to food, solving world hunger once and for all. Humanity waddling around naked and green, but nourished and free to pursue other means of fulfillment.
Give it some thought while you plan my 60th birthday party at Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica. Den every ting be irie
Live long and prosper.
Success Tip 1 Do one more thing
Steve Jobs created something of a catch phrase with “one more thing”, but long before he was saying this at product introductions, it was a deeply embedded part of my philosophy of success. Like any successful philosophy, the strength of this mantra is its simplicity. I have used this throughout my life to drive my success. I did not achieve what I did in life by a sustained herculean drive, like most people suppose. I simply worked hard at something I loved, then, when I thought myself done for the day, I just did one more thing. I believe the difference between mediocrity and success is just doing a little bit more than everyone else, every day.
By now you know my hard luck story about leaving home at 17, working my way through college and then forging my way through the technology industry from the ground up. I will spare you all of those details. But here are a couple of examples of what I mean when I say “do one more thing” and how it paid off for me.
When I landed my first software sales job in 1990 we had monthly competitions for orders. We were calling architects and selling them real-time 3D design software. Most of the architects we called didn’t even have computers yet. This made the sale more complicated, but you know by now that I am someone who is not easily deterred by a simple speed bump like that. I would actually find out where they were and called a local computer store to pick out the right machine for them. Once they had the $3,000 Macintosh I could then sell them the $495 piece of software, and maybe some design services.
The competition among the sales people was pretty fierce, and complicated by the fact that the sales manager had hired his brother and his best friend as my competition, but I sustained a long streak of salesman of the month victories by doing just a little bit more and being creative. I would go so far as to leave the office at 5, go get a coffee or something to give the rest of the sales people time to leave, then I would circle back to the office and start calling the west coast. The manager was always a bit surprised when I put up orders on the board first thing the next day. I learned to kind of space them out so as not to tip my hand.
One Friday afternoon I had gone for a coffee and waited for the parking lot to empty, then came back in to make calls. As soon as I sat at my desk the phone actually rang, a rare occurrence, and it was a lady named Suzanne Peck who said she was from Warner Brothers. She said she had heard about our software from James Cameron and wanted to know if we could rapidly create a scene for a movie they were doing called “Joyride” The rub was that they needed the shot by Monday. I saw a great opportunity to nail another monthly victory. I quickly negotiated a deal to create the scene for her and packaged together the software and my services. When I hung up with her the fax chirped and spit out some crude architectural drawings of a store called “Nutty Nicks”. I had very little experience with our software, much less with reading blueprints, but turned on one of our systems and started designing. One of the engineers, David Easter, was still there and gave me some tips as I worked. I worked on in to the night and was able to Fedex a big tape drive to Warner Brothers on Saturday to arrive Monday morning. The short version of the rest of the story is that this scene I created became a 12 second scene in the Peter Weir film which came to be known as “Fearless” starring Jeff “The Dude” Bridges, Isabella Rosellini, John Turturro and Rosie Perez. Rosie was nominated for an Oscar. I didn’t get a credit but had the thrill of seeing my work on the big screen for the first time. Oh, and I also made salesman of the month again.
I have dozens of stories like this where I just did a little bit more than everyone else, but this post is already long. I will bore you with them in person once you have leveled up. Remind me to tell you how I went from bus boy to bartender in the space of one Summer at the Santa Barbara Sheraton during college.
I was an Eagle Scout; am, an Eagle Scout. In my day, in the little town where I graduated from High School, the Boy Scouts provided a very deep outlet for my wide variety of interests, creative energy and longing for adventure and the outdoors, at least until I discovered girls. I am not sure what form the Scouts will be in when you come of age, but hope it will continue its long tradition so you can have the same experiences that I did.
One of the best things I did in Scouts was to go to Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. Everyone who goes there gets a primer on how to avoid and evade bears and Mountain Lions and the various other flora and fauna that have a reasonable shot at maiming or killing a young scout. After backpacking several days and avoiding one nocturnal mountain lion visit, I woke up one morning near Beau Bien Ranch to find a grizzly bear in our camp about 10 yards from my tent. We just waited him out as he finally made his way to our bear bags, slung impossibly and intelligently out of bear reach between tall trees, and then ambled off for easier targets elsewhere. I have to say I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to use my bear evading strategies.
I want to pass these on to you, but while putting it together I realized that they bear (pun intended) an easy resemblance to Daniel Wilson’s tips for “Evading attacking robots”. In the post modern age where you will mature you may very well find yourself needing both sets of advice. So I will provide both.
Daniel Wilson was a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University outside of Pittsburgh. I became aware of him and others there pursuing various arcane paths to the future because the aerospace company where I work provides them with research funding. Which means that curious bipeds like me get to occasionally wade through there, wave a badge, and soak up all of that future knowledge goodness.
Tips for evading attacking robots, or bears…or…robotic bears.
Here is what Daniel Wilson had to say about the future robot apocalypse and how to evade them when they attack. I have a book from him called “How to survive a robot uprising”. He also wrote a novel called “Robopocalypse” that is worth the read. Again, where possible, I will note where his advice applies equally well to bear evasion, saving time for both of us.
1. Run downhill over rough terrain
Bears have a hard time maintaining stability at full speed while running down hill. On flat ground, despite their large bulk, they can outrun you. So find a hill and run down (not up) it. Also, robots (of today) have to process and may have difficulty navigating any broken terrain. Be sure to check their means of propulsion first. The robots on tracks and wheels are easily foiled. But we are making them better all the time. Today we have biped and quadroped bots and even bots that can fly short distances. So, know your enemy before you run, if possible.
2. Find cover or clutter
The key to evading robots is knowing how their sensors work. Watch the Schwarzenegger movie “Predator” for tips about IR sensor-based bots. If they are vision based bots the clutter may help you confuse them enough to make your getaway.
This tip probably doesn’t work very well for a marauding bear, unless the cover is of just the right density to permit you, but not the bulk of the bear, to pass.
3. Merge with the pack
This is the same principle as schooling fish. If someone else is present, try to merge your form with them momentarily, then separate quickly and run.
Again, this is about confusing the tracking sensors. This applies equally well to bears and bots. It reminds me of an old Richard Pryor joke (20th century awesome comedian) where the punch line goes something like “Well, which way are you going to run?”
“Because I don’t want to run into you. I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you”
4. Find a body of water
According to Wilson, “Most robots will sink in water or mud and fall through ice.” Note that this will not deter the bots that can fly. Also, bears are quite fond of water and may be able to swim faster than you. So, spend extra time in swim lessons to give you that extra stroke or two that may make the difference.
Never run in a predictable line. It is doubtful that advanced robot targeting systems will be fooled by this. And bears chase stuff all the time, but I still recommend making serpentine a part of your mental repertoire for evading a whole host of possible scenarios. Eight hundred 1980s movies where the hero or heroine evades robots, animals, killer pimps, High School bullies and terrorists can’t be wrong.
6. Run toward the light
Err. this only works on robots with primitive sensors. And I don’t think it will work on bears either, unless the light is attached to a helicopter with a guy leaning out of the door manning an M 60.
7. Find a car
Jumping into a car and getting all appendages safely inside always seems like good advice. Wilson says do this and then reach up and grab the keys from the visor and “burn rubber”, because this may be your only hope for evading a robot who may be able to easily outrun a human. Where bears are concerned I think getting the extremities inside and closing the door should suffice. Make sure the windows are up, though. Then you can make funny faces at the bear and irritate it while you wait for rescue. Still, always check the visor for keys that all too frequently seem to be there.
I have more detailed advice that I will provide you later, once you are capable of abstract thought.
There is a growing host of experts who tell me that you, and your generation, are smarter than me and my generation. They say that IQs are becoming higher with each successive generation; something they call the Flynn Effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect ; and that your brain will be re-wired by the tools you use and that you will grow even smarter.
Marc Prensky calls you a “digital native” and Don Tapscott calls you a “millennial”. Their studies are now beyond mere guesses. In Tapscott’s book “Grown up Digital” he provides hard data on exactly how you are different. The data says that the morphology of your brain will be reshaped in much the same way that London Taxi cab driver brains are physically changed by the constant challenge of navigating the impossible London spaghetti string maps.
“The things we make, make us” is now a jeep commercial, but the first time I remember that concept was when I read Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media”. McLuhan said that my baby boomer brain was remapped by television; that the medium itself changed my preference for receiving information, how I socialize with others and how I process the world around me. You see Dylan, the last century was the first televised century. We are able now to go back and revisit the major events and re-interpret them from recordings. There are people who are seriously debating whether or not this century in which you were born will see time travel become possible. It is all about sensors.
Moore’s Law is tracking how processor speed is doubling in price performance every eighteen months or so. Recording devices including sensors of various kinds all dance to the Moore’s Law beat and are also improving in price performance. They are beginning to become embedded everywhere, even in cellular phones and tablets. This has caused an explosion of data, most of it recordings from sensors. They say you can not walk through London without being recorded permanently to some cloud-based storage medium. Maybe some day you will be able to pull up a temporal place in time and stand there and watch yourself walk by. Your children and theirs may be able to see the day you and your wife met and play it back again and again from every possible angle. Google Earth street view is only the beginning, Dylan, but whatever comes will be as natural as breathing to you and your generation.
The first time I caught your sister swiping her hand across the flat screen of our television to change the channel at two years old I knew that something profound was happening to humanity. When she held a birthday party for our robotic vacuum cleaner I had a mild case of post modern future shock that was only quenched by half a bottle of Flaccianello. I do not yet know what the future holds for you and the rest of humanity. Is all of this an evolutionary half step that has us slouching towards some symbiotic relationship with technology? Will we fuse with it to become what Hans Moravec calls “ourselves in more potent form” or will we upload human consciousness into a new substrate, as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil suppose, surpassing the Singularity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity to range out and populate the stars with mechanical robotic bodies?
I hope we will have a lot of time to brood over these and other issues as soon as you have leveled up. In the meantime, remember that your old man may not be as smart as you, but he has experience and wisdom in painful abundance. Keep a defragged section of your morphologically changing brain reserved for what I have to share.
The nearly complete fortress of solitude.
It is Father’s Day, 2012. You are three weeks old today. It is noon and the day has been perfection, so far.
I took you on your first tour of the nature trail. We startled a baby deer who jumped from the tall grass right across our path, and we watched a sand hill crane hunt the bog. This is the first day that it really appeared that you were seeing the World, your eyes catching and releasing on the swaying green branches as we walked, sunlight dappling your face, little coos of what I think were recognition issuing from your miniature lips.
Your Mother considered a nature trail walk at three weeks old, risky behavior. What if that jumping deer caused me to drop you? Or what if I lost my balance on one of the steps up the hill? Risk management is a critical skill in our accelerating complex world. So, let’s talk about it. I think the sooner we start this particular dialogue the better because, as my son, you are likely to inherit my appetite for risk.
There are two main kinds of risk: financial and physical.
Financial risk has been in the news a lot recently. Risky use of capital has almost ruined the World in the years running up to your birth. As a result, the tolerance for risk appears to be diminishing. Banks aren’t lending and corporations aren’t spending; hoarding cash. There is a great deal of discussion about how much risk is prudent, and whether we should legislate how much should be legally allowed. This seems acutely un-American to me, and exactly the opposite of what we should be doing as complexity increases. (see my lecture on Moore’s Law) when we should be investing in innovation; the only thing that can save us. But then, I tend to look at the World a bit differently from the madding crowd. I have been an entrepreneur, working with my colleagues to raise over $50 million in capital over the last twenty years to form 6 different companies.
My high stress threshold and hearty appetite for risk makes most people uncomfortable, but it has served me well. I have had an interesting life with many more adventures to come (hopefully). Maybe you and I will tilt at windmills together some day. I hope so. And maybe my later years will see a deeper prudence settle in me to counter any irrational exuberance you may exhibit. Calculated risk is the only risk to take in finance. But risk avoidance leads to inertia and stagnation.
Personal risk is another matter altogether. I am unqualified to lecture you on it, since I have been so fast and loose with my own personal safety as I traveled the world looking for adventure and experience. When I couldn’t talk others into going with me I just went alone. I went alone to Moscow, to Tokyo, to Brazil and Egypt. I was chased through the streets of Sao Paulo by thugs, robbed at gun point by the Moscow police in the middle of the night in the blowing snow. I went to Egypt three weeks after the 1998 Luxor massacre, and was detained and interrogated by Israeli agents while trying to walk across the border at Eilat. I would like to say that most of my recklessness was in those years of high testosterone between 16 and 30. For the most part, that is true. But as recently as three years ago I made the sober decision, against all advice to the contrary, to dive head first from the cliffs at Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica, my left elbow sprained and my back wrenched like I had been under the Inquisitor’s rack. There is a video of “the dive”. Your Mom will be very happy to show it to you as an object lesson about ignoring most of my advice.
I very much want adventure for you. I can only imagine what is in store for you once the wanderlust kicks in and you get that adolescent bullet proof yearning for finding the limits of things. But I do hope to teach you risk management before it hits, so you get through it all in one piece.
The fortress of solitude I have been building the last few months is nearly complete. Set forty yards into the woods it stands 15 feet in the air among the trees and overlooks the stream and bog. I tackled this project the way I approach software (and, some would say, life) planning to no more than 50%, then diving straight in, getting dirty and iterating as I learned. I never built anything of this scale or complexity before, but am now proud of every imperfection.
I am most proud of the complex angles of the hip roof, and especially the translucency that lets the stars and nature in to watch you as you grow.
In warm months a wall of green will insulate you from the confusion and clamor. In Winter the cold air and gray and brown sentinel-like trees will serve your need for separation.
Electronic screens and teledevices are forbidden here. No electric light; only stars and candles when the day is quenched. As important as I believe it is, and as much as I want you to gain a comfortable fluency with the digital tools that are remaking the world, i want you to master distance from these tools as well, alone with your thoughts. Let this serve as one place among many for meditation and communion; a centrifuge for fleeing and ungathered insights, for contemplating lost and found love.
I have come to know that many of the old axioms are true; that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know you will come to need and appreciate this distance from the din.