On the wisdom of not going gentle into that good night

Dear Dylan,

Any night when it is my appointed task to put you down for sleep, I look forward to it. There is something about those precious minutes, when you insist on me holding your hand and you stand in your crib. You won’t tolerate lying down. You always want to stand until the sleep takes you and you literally collapse into it. I hold your hand and we look into each other’s eyes for a while. I speak Robert Frost poetry to you or sing old Louis Jordan tunes; all of the tricks that worked so easily for your sister. Not so easily for you.

black hole event horizon I have to admit I admire the defiance. It is everyone’s obligation to defy oblivion as long as possible, but already I can tell there is something about you that is different. You rage against the dying of the light. You never go gentle into it.

I can only think that this spirit you have is what we mean when we talk about the right stuff. There are so many easy ways to go through life. Some of us choose the road not taken, the rocky, unnavigable routes that lead us to unknown destinations. It is what got us to the moon, stemmed the ravages of disease and propels us to whatever fate ultimately awaits mankind. I am sure you have it. I don’t know what you will do with this extraordinary will you have. Your sister has some of this too, and I took the selfish liberty of embedding in her the idea of creating some molecule that delays or completely prevents oblivion for us. She talks about it freely now, to the confused consternation of her first grade teachers.

I don’t think I will do the same with you. I want your extraordinary will to find its own natural path; if anything in this post modern digital age can be called natural. I think you may actually do it, my son. You may solve the whole riddle and become humanity’s first immortal.

Live long and prosper

Love,
Dad

Advertisements

Submarines, Dragons and the Endless Sea

Submarines, Dragons and the Endless Sea

Dear Dylan,

On the one year anniversary of your birth, we returned to the sea. Your Mother and I both felt the unspoken pull to cross water for your birthday. So we left the mainland at Southport and landed as we have many times before on Bald Head Island. This nautical pull is natural and inevitable with you.

I have already mentioned that your very name means “Son of the Sea”, and that you were born under water, the image of your face emerging beneath water, eyes closed, face serenely turned towards an unknown sun is burned indelibly in my memory. I see water and islands in your future.

This particular island was a good choice to celebrate all things Dylan because it is entirely possible that you were conceived there. In the sixteen years your Mother and I have been together we have been there dozens of times, including during the appropriate conceptual timespace that fall. A study of the calendar suggests that the other spot where you may have been conceived is also nautical in nature. Nine months before you were born I took the entire family to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where I was working on a DARPA study at the National Academy of Sciences.

We spent a good deal of time at the Oceanographic Institute nearby, your sister climbing in and out of the cockpit replica of the submarine Alvin. Submarines have figured prominently in your first full year on the planet. A few months ago we were drawn as a family to the other coast, to celebrate with James and Suzy Cameron the one year anniversary of the successful voyage of the Deep Sea Challenger.

Your Mom in the cockpit of the Deep Sea challenger
Your Mom in the cockpit of the Deep Sea challenger

If you develop some sort of personal branding logo, tattoo or coat of arms you should consider including submarines together with the inevitable dragons. Or, perhaps, sub-marinal water dragons, whatever they may look like.

Bald Head Island was a good choice too because it is very representative of where we have been as a society and where we are going, or rather, must or should

go. Despite the fact that there had once been a naval fort there, and the light house had been erected in 1817, BHI remained wild and untamed until the early 1970s. At that time a hardy band of nature lovers began to boat over to it and camp. The rich variety of flora and fauna and multiple ecosystems attracted the right sorts to appreciate and help preserve them, the way flowers attract bees and butterflies and achieve perfect symbiosis. 
The island had no electricity until 1981. The original campers became known as the Generator Society for the systems they created to make electricity only when it was essential. Today the island shuns fossil fuel vehicles in favor of electric vehicles and golf carts and discourages exterior electric lights in order to avoid disrupting nesting turtles.

This  is how I expect you and your sister will learn to live; with resilience and resourcefulness and in symbiotic concert with nature, and especially with the endless immensity of the sea.

Live long and prosper.

Love,
Dad

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Dispatch from the restaurant at the end of the universe: Advice from Douglas Adams

Dear Dylan,

Douglas Adams was one of my favorite science fiction writers. He was also a very agreeable dinner companion. I had dinner with him in London at the famous restaurant Bibendum, and in New Orleans at SIGGRAPH in 1996. My company also worked with him on a game called “Starship Titanic” It was great fun and so was he and I really wish he had stuck around to give you advice.

If he had stuck around instead of heading off to the restaurant at the end of the universe, I think he would like the fact that you were born in the year of the dragon and might give you some advice like this excerpt from a speech he gave at Cambridge in 1998.

“I want to talk about Feng Shui, which is something I know very little about, but there’s been a lot of talk about it recently in terms of figuring out how a building should be designed, built, situated, decorated and so on. Apparently, we need to think about the building being inhabited by dragons and look at it in terms of how a dragon would move around it. So, if a dragon wouldn’t be happy in the house, you have to put a red fish bowl here or a window there. This sounds like complete and utter nonsense, because anything involving dragons must be nonsense – there aren’t any dragons, so any theory based on how dragons behave is nonsense. What are these silly people doing, imagining that dragons can tell you how to build your house? Nevertheless, it occurs to me if you disregard for a moment the explanation that’s actually offered for it, it may be there is something interesting going on that goes like this: we all know from buildings that we’ve lived in, worked in, been in or stayed in, that some are more comfortable, more pleasant and more agreeable to live in than others. We haven’t had a real way of quantifying this, but in this century we’ve had an awful lot of architects who think they know how to do it, so we’ve had the horrible idea of the house as a machine for living in, we’ve had Mies van der Roe and others putting up glass stumps and strangely shaped things that are supposed to form some theory or other. It’s all carefully engineered, but nonetheless, their buildings are not actually very nice to live in. An awful lot of theory has been poured into this, but if you sit and work with an architect (and I’ve been through that stressful time, as I’m sure a lot of people have) then when you are trying to figure out how a room should work you’re trying to integrate all kinds of things about lighting, about angles, about how people move and how people live – and an awful lot of other things you don’t know about that get left out. You don’t know what importance to attach to one thing or another; you’re trying to, very consciously, figure out something when you haven’t really got much of a clue, but there’s this theory and that theory, this bit of engineering practice and that bit of architectural practice; you don’t really know what to make of them. Compare that to somebody who tosses a cricket ball at you. You can sit and watch it and say, ‘It’s going at 17 degrees’; start to work it out on paper, do some calculus, etc. and about a week after the ball’s whizzed past you, you may have figured out where it’s going to be and how to catch it. On the other hand, you can simply put your hand out and let the ball drop into it, because we have all kinds of faculties built into us, just below the conscious level, able to do all kinds of complex integrations of all kinds of complex phenomena which therefore enables us to say, ‘Oh look, there’s a ball coming; catch it!’
What I’m suggesting is that Feng Shui and an awful lot of other things are precisely of that kind of problem. There are all sorts of things we know how to do, but don’t necessarily know what we do, we just do them. Go back to the issue of how you figure out how a room or a house should be designed and instead of going through all the business of trying to work out the angles and trying to digest which genuine architectural principles you may want to take out of what may be a passing architectural fad, just ask yourself, ‘how would a dragon live here?’ We are used to thinking in terms of organic creatures; an organic creature may consist of an enormous complexity of all sorts of different variables that are beyond our ability to resolve but we know how organic creatures live. We’ve never seen a dragon but we’ve all got an idea of what a dragon is like, so we can say, ‘Well if a dragon went through here, he’d get stuck just here and a little bit cross over there because he couldn’t see that and he’d wave his tail and knock that vase over’. You figure out how the dragon’s going to be happy here and lo and behold! you’ve suddenly got a place that makes sense for other organic creatures, such as ourselves, to live in.”

Live long and prosper my little Dragon

Love, Dad

 

(Here is a link to his entire, masterful speech) http://www.biota.org/people/douglasadams/

Advice from Nolan Bushnell

Dad with Atari (and Chuck E. Cheese) Founder Nolan Bushnell
Dad with Atari (and Chuck E. Cheese) Founder Nolan Bushnell

Dear Dylan,
Just as you were turning eleven months old, I found myself having dinner in Orlando, FL with Atari Founder and computer industry icon Nolan Bushnell. He was very gracious and, as it turns out, is a doting Father like me; except he didn’t stop at two children. He has eight. One of them is named Dylan. I tried to pry as much Fatherly advice as possible from him. With five boys and a penchant for algorithms I expected that he would almost certainly have cracked the code, maybe devised a hack or batch code that I could run any time I was puzzled over your behavior and trying to divine the best way to get you back on the shining path.
He gave me a lot of advice and suggested too that I read his new book, Finding the Next Steve Jobs

http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Next-Steve-Jobs-Creative/dp/0988879514

I have, and it contains pearls of wisdom for running companies and families and, most importantly, finding and cultivating creative talent. These are lessons that apply equally well to business and family life.

He also sent me a note this morning that I wanted to share with you. This is wisdom from him just for you. Take heed little one.

Nice seeing you in Orlando.  As I mentioned, I have a Dylan also, who is now 23 and hyper-creative.  He and my youngest son both grew up on Humongous games, which I think are still relevant (Pajama Sam, Freddy Fish, Putt Putt, etc.)

Add this to his site:

Dear Dylan-

Start playing the Humongous games at 2.  You may have to sit on your dad’s lap, but your creative brain will thank you for it.  

Keep your brain challenged throughout life.

Best,

Nolan

Level up little man. Great minds are waiting to see what you will add to the human story.

Live long and prosper

Love, Dad

 

Nolan doing the keynote at Gametech. I owe him one for agreeing to come and do this.
Nolan doing the keynote at Gametech. I owe him one for agreeing to come and do this.

On Conflict

 

Dear Dylan,

You were born as this country began to wind down over a decade of war.  Almost eleven years before you were born we suffered a terrible attack on our country that took us all quite by surprise , and made us all very angry and hungry for vengeance. We spun up our military and unleashed a maelstrom of punishment. thrusting deep into the ancient heart of civilization. I think, from this vantage point, we were right to be angry, and right to seek vengeance. But we also learned a lot about the nature of conflict and how to resolve it. I would like to share some of this with you.

You will encounter conflict in your life. Personal conflict, organizational conflict, commercial conflict; and you may even find yourself in the midst of war. Conflict is a fact of life. There are those who blame government or the military for our larger conflicts. I am not among them. I do not think it is the nature of the military man that accounts for war, but the nature of man. As long as we have different origins, different points of view and different values and goals, we will always have conflict.  With seven billion people and growing, it is inevitable that we will have differing values and goals.

In this modern age we do, however, have more tools with which to address conflict. The main tools are violence, wealth and intelligence.

Violence is the least versatile because it is only used to punish.  And, if we have learned anything about the nature of mankind, we have learned that humans bear grudges, for a long, long time.  The Balkan wars erupt periodically over wounds suffered centuries ago.

Battle of Kosovo, 1389
Battle of Kosovo, 1389

The descendants of  the jews of Talavera, Spain, who were expelled in 1492,  still keep the ancient keys to their homes around their necks and vow to return. Violence begets violence, and sometimes long into the future.

Wealth is more versatile.  You will hear me often refer to wealth as “green energy” because of the capacity and flexibility it provides for actions of various kinds. With wealth you can resolve conflict through either reward or punishment.  This makes it a better choice than violence in my opinion.

But the best tool for resolving conflict is intelligence. You will hear me say that all suffering on earth, even war, is simply the result of bad ideas.  Warfare may actually be the worst idea conjured by man.  We have to learn that lesson again and again throughout history. With intelligence, we can avoid situations that require the expense of wealth or violence.  Intelligence is the most valuable resource in the universe. Cultivate it. Seek knowledge. And think well before acting with violence or wealth.

This concludes your lesson for the day.

Live long and prosper.

Love, Dad

Hunger for the Limits

Image
Looks like Einstein was right, Euclidean Geometry is sooo 20th century!

Hunger for the Limits

Dear Dylan,

You have now accumulated ten months of experience on Planet Earth. This date coincides closely with the one year anniversary of James Cameron’s solo submarine voyage to the deepest point in the Ocean, the Mariana trench.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50143599n

I find that event very inspirational.  Going there was an adventure, and now we are learning about new life forms discovered while he was there. Our knowledge about the world has grown because of one solitary, adventurous spirit. As I tell people, if that doesn’t capture your imagination, you don’t have one. Like Cameron, you are going solo, exploring your portion of the world with insatiable curiosity. You started crawling and went straight from there to standing and bipedally teetering around the house in the span of two weeks.  We have had to race ahead of schedule to lock down the stairs and other dangers you have revealed.

This is a great way to comprehend the world; with a curious, adventurous spirit and as much direct experience of it as you can manage.  I hope you will continue in this way and follow the example of scientists and adventurers who are hungry for the limits of things and are always reshaping our understanding of reality.  I will seek to embed this yearning in you as much as possible, and fend from you the slings and arrows of outrageous doctrine, mythology and superstition that abound even today and will try to keep you from adventure and understanding.

It pains me today that there are many who are uncomfortable with adventure, and questioning what we know. Some schools still use textbooks filled with erroneous information. As if people can’t quite get comfortable with the fact that we are learning new versions of truth with the scientific method and accelerating intelligent computing networks. I am not talking about the obvious shameful misinformation about the Earth being 5,000 years old and cave men co-existing with Dinosaurs. I am talking about recent, fundamental shifts in understanding.

We still teach geometry as if the universe was Euclidean, when we have become very certain in the last decade that it is not. We still talk about the physics laws of conservation of energy and mass as if they are some sort of religious gospel when we now know they are not. Prigogine taught us that most systems are dissipative, not in equilibrium. (And I suspect, along with Robert Frenay, that this erroneous model of the universe is why our financial systems collapse under the weight of compound interest every decade)

I think most suffering on planet Earth is merely the result of bad ideas, Dylan. With better ideas, and our rapidly accelerating better knowledge of the nature of the universe we will end disease, custom manufacture human organs when needed,  and generally change this world before colonizing the galaxy.  You will see all of this in your long, extended life.

Keep exploring, young Master Dylan. Stay hungry for the limits of things.  And one mroe thing, follow Alan Kay’s advice. Don’t predict the future. Invent it.

Live Long and Prosper.

Love,

Dad

Image
Dad and Alan Kay, Marina del Rey 2009

(Thanks to James Cameron, David Reed, Alan Kay and Robert Frenay for inspiring these thoughts)

Nine Months

Dear Dylan,

Today marks nine months on Planet Earth for you. You were born in the year of the Dragon. It is now the Chinese year of some other creature, but the Dragon fire is with you still. You are definitely more of a handful than your sister. You are prone to temper tantrums, usually assuaged by shoveling more organic pureed food into your insatiable maw. You are officially ginormous. I had never heard a doctor use that term before, but it seems apt. At nine months you are 32 inches tall/long and 22 lbs.

I did want to discuss one issue with you. I understand completely that children of your age have a tendency to explore this brave new world with your mouths. But everything does not need to go into your mouth to be appreciated. Your poor mother is in a constant state of anxiety policing the environment for small objects. I think we have a routine and policy now that should prevent any major mis-ingestions in the house. Outside is another matter.

You see, we now have what you would call a deer-resistant garden. It didn’t start out that way. We once had a large number of plants of varying species. Since the dogs have passed on to chase unnamed things across eternal fields together, the deer have grown more bold and have culled everything remotely palatable from our once beautiful landscape. What is left is deer resistant by natural selection. Deer-resistant essentially means so noxious and poisonous that billy goats won’t touch it. This also means it is a fatal landscape for humans. We are left with a garden replete with Daphne and Hellebore. I have seen you eyeing the Hellebore on our walks. I advise against it. Hellebore is used by witches to summon demons. During the Siege of Kirrha in 585 BC, hellebore was reportedly used by the Greek besiegers to poison the city’s water supply. The defenders were subsequently so weakened by diarrhea that they were unable to defend the city from assault. Just sayin’
Live long and prosper little man.

Love,
Dad

Overdue post from Italy

Dylan in Piazza. My First Italian Christmas
Dylan in Piazza. My First Italian Christmas

December 23, 2012
Dear Dylan,

Aplomb. That is the word to describe how well you have adjusted to the pace and rhythm of Italian life. Granted, the pace here is arguably well suited to a baby. Sleep, drink, eat, Enjoy family. But I am sticking with my assessment. This is your first Christmas in the Veneto and you were the hit of the Piazza this season. You arrived demonstrating no visible signs of jet lag and let us wheel you right into the middle of things. You stoically weathered all of the people who could not resist saying “Che bello questo bimbo!” and reaching their cold and flu season streaked hands in to stroke your face and head with all manner of microbial affection.

We even made a sign in Italian that said “non toccare il bimbo abordo” but it had little affect on your fans.

So I say bravo to you little man. Vivi a lungo e prospera!