--- BLOG ---

December 2005

December 4, 2005 O #

I got a new phone, and for the first time ever, have a song that I actually like.
People are People


I love having a good excuse to go to really cool places.   

Actually, I don't even care if it's a good excuse. I'll take any excuse.
Amber was kind enough to let me crash at her pad, and patient enough to help me get around in the mornings, and get back in the evenings. And then we had a good time walking around downtown on Friday.  

Boston has a very different culture, and I think it’s resultant from the makeup of the city. This place was built in a time when transportation was a hassle. Consequently, transportation is still a hassle. Here, it is possible to have your own little domain, and there isn't a constant reminder that your little domain is, well… little. All the narrow roads twist and wind, as opposed to the West where the roads are straight, long, and wide. In the West, you're aware that it’s a big world. Here in Boston, the bigness of the world isn't intrusively apparent. Everything within sight can be comprehended. The road turns before somebody else's domain, and seldom is there an overview of the entire society that extends beyond the peripheral of your vision.

It seems like everybody in California is sporting an iPod. I expected to see them rampant in Boston, where everybody rides the T all around. Not so. A few people have iPods, but not a majority. When I commented on that to Amber, she responded: "That's because people out here like to think and read."

I really like how young Boston is. The age here is… prime. The majority of people seem to be from four years younger than me to two or three years older than me. The girls here generally look very beautiful. It’s a different look than the flashy Hollywood look. It’s more plain, clear that fashion is not their prime concern, but they naturally look well kept, self respecting, and tasteful. The guys likewise have that manner. I like being around these kind of people.

My excuse for this week was to visit MIT. I'm applying to their LFM program, for a masters in Engineering and an MBA. I set up appointments with a couple professors in the Aeronautics and Astronautics department. Those meetings went well, and then I met up with several students currently in the LFM program. These guys are treated like Kings (or Queens). They have a whole floor to themselves, with conference rooms, their own desk areas, lounge area, kitchen area, etc., in addition to everything available to the regular Sloan students. The program itself is ideal. The LFM students shows up in June, they all spend a couple months as teams in several courses, then integrate with the business and engineering schools when the semester starts rolling. The following summer starts a six month internship with a sponsoring company, and then back to MIT for a semester to finish off the engineering work and business courses. The school is so thickly integrated with business all across the world that there are several opportunities, in addition to the six month internship, to work 2 to 4 week projects at a whole range of companies. It's all part of the curriculum. The campus is very obviously dominated by engineers. I've heard rumors of MIT students being unusually stressed, but I saw no evidence of that. I met several LFM students, and a few random engineers, and every one of them seemed bright, positive, and happy. 

(Not  MIT or Harvard... just a building in Boston)

As long as I was in town, I contacted a couple friends who are in Harvard Business School, John Alvorado and Joe Landon, and attended a couple classes with them. Holy blow-me-away-and-leave-me-far-more-impressed-than-I-anticipated. HBS is one well run and organized institution. Their campus is very clean and organized, and it carries over into the classroom. Every single student in the class is very proactive about the case being studied, bright and insightful, and they never cross over the same idea twice. The professors don't stand in front of the class and lecture with a powerpoint presentation. They use the old school chalk board and the students to run the class. I've never seen anything so highly effective. I was highly impressed with the students, but to be entirely honest, I have several friends from BYU who could run on par with anybody in those classes. I never sensed the slightest hint of arrogance. Everyone has a significant future ahead,  and their attitude is one of inviting others to move forward with them. If you ever get an opportunity to see what is taking place there, you should certainly take it. There's a reason HBS is rated #1 year after year. If I weren't bent on engineering, HBS would now be my top choice.

December 5, 2005 M #

I got the announcement for my ten year high school reunion today.
Remember when a ten year reunion seemed like it was forever away?

Go Chargers!!!

December 6, 2005 T #

Marvels of Interchangeable Redundancy

We had a visitor to our test chamber a few times this last week. He would appear, and then as soon as we realized it, he was gone... and the computer with the control system and database would be restarting. He would never tell us when he was coming, or why he came, except for a little note afterwards saying "disk failure". I've heard people refer to him as the Blue Screen of Death.

No big deal. We have full redundancy in the data logging, and everything is controlled on independent processors that are far more reliable than anything running Windows. Even so, when you're testing a billion dollar satellite, and the Air Force and Program Managers from both Northrop Grumman and Lockheed are watching like hawks, it's a undesirable inconvenience.

Initially, I thought my control system was to blame. It still might be the problem, but we're pretty sure it's hardware... but that's beside the reason for this post. We did one of the coolest things ever today. We're running server class computers with dual hard drives, dual processors, dual power supplies, dual etc., and it's all hot swapable. Looking deeper into our data logs, we saw convincing evidence that the problem was somewhere in the hardware. Solution? We'll just switch everything to a new computer, let our Redundant system keep everything under  wraps while we make the switch, and be back on line within 10 minutes!!! Ok, writing this now, that doesn't sound so hot. But when you're aware of all the configuration that goes into a computer to make it communicate with the PLC's, the GPIB vac gauges, the RS-232 chillers, the local HMI's, the other computers on the network, getting the database configured with the OPC servers and clients, getting everything registered on the RSLinx network in that computer and the surrounding computers, installing the right versions of the drivers... get the idea? It's pretty involved. Anybody familiar can relate.

Ok... this post is rather anti-climactic. If I were in person telling this story, this would be the pause in the conversation where I would say: "You should have been there." But anti-climactic or not, we shut down the computer, unplugged everything, pulled it out of the rack, popped out the hard drive and cartridge with the PCI cards, plugged everything into the new computer, plugged in the cables, and we were up and running. Fun stuff. 

December 7, 2005 W #

  eBay Helping the World with Anger Management

I think I remember each of the few occasions in my life when I've felt anger. Not discouragement or frustration, but anger... the type that makes you feel like throwing things or hitting people.  Six times to be exact. Boot Monkey x 2, Traffic Cop, Forest Ranger, Racquetball (indirect expression of something else), and tonight.

I signed on with Sprint, and after a few weeks, it just wasn't cutting it. At least four dropped calls a week, and poor coverage at my house. I called to transfer back to Verizon, but it was 32 days since I signed the contract. No big deal. It just takes talking to the right people, and they turn reasonable about that absurd $175 cancellation fee. Then I tried to return my phone to a store near me. No luck. Try a Sprint Corporate store near me. No luck. Go to Boston for a week. Finally make it to the store I bought the phone at. 30 day deadline, and no leniency. No big deal. I call customer service while the manager is there with me in the store. 10 minutes of talking, mixed with 25 minutes on hold, and still no luck.

This is where I actually felt anger. A sudden impulse to throw the phone through the window just appeared. I could see the glass shattering and falling to the sidewalk, and me walking through the gaping hole feeling balanced again. Not just a light impulse, but a pretty darn strong instinctive reaction. It took about three seconds for me to realize I was feeling angry. The really cool thing is, realizing it doesn't make the impulse any less powerful. The feeling stays there, like acknowledging a gash on your arm which might need stitches doesn't make the pain disappear. Or like acknowledging that a particular girl is highly attractive doesn't change her attraction factor.

Acknowledging this state of anger is always fun, because it's just like pain tolerance. You separate yourself from the feeling, and you become acutely aware of your own dual existence as both a thinking choosing consciousness, and a genetically developed set of instincts and reflexes. The final fight in the last Matrix, where Neo and Agent Smith smash the atoms out of each other, articulates the difference:

"Why do you go on? Why do you do this? Is it Love? Is it Peace and Happiness? Why do you get up? Why?"

Agent Smith was a cognisciant program, but a program nonetheless. He couldn't understand the why, because he didn't posses the why. He had no means by which to relate.

"Because I choose to."

The "I" is the real difference between Neo and Agent Smith. Agent Smith, as a set of logical rules, and even during his period embodied in a set of biological and molecular rules (the human body he possessed to return from the Matrix)... as a set of rules, Agent Smith could multiply. Neo... Neo was embodied within a set of logical rules, both biological rules beyond his control (his body) as well as programmatic rules under his control (The digital self expression within the Matrix), but the "I" which was Neo could not be duplicated like a virus... like Agent Smith. The individual, the "I", is singular.

It is by "Choosing" that the "I" claims priority over the logical rules within which it is embodied. The existence of the rules doesn't disappear, but the "I" "chooses" the action that will be taken in accordance to the rules. The "I" chooses to deal with the pain. The "I" chooses to understand and act such that its chosen desires are realized. The "I" is the component of human existence that brings people beyond the conditioning generated by the circumstances they perceive and experience. The "I" is the creative and pro-active component of a human. (Taken in the proper context, the "I" is the difference between life as a god, and life as an animal.)

In my case dealing with Sprint, my psychological conditioning from my perceived experience is such that a grand expression of dissatisfaction in the form of flying cell phones and large shattering windows was instinctively appropriate to the situation at hand. Unfortunately, I chose to refrain from creating my grand expression of dissatisfaction. The dropping window that flashed into my mind was really, really, really... really cool looking. And I thoroughly enjoy walking in surroundings that represent the way I feel. Walking through the surroundings of shattered glass in a store front would have represented my feeling with exquisite detail and precision.

I chose to accept the loss, thought "I won't let this ruin my day," and chose to begin taking action on the plan B that began formulating while waiting on hold for 25 minutes.

"Have you ever sold anything on eBay?"

I chose to let go of the anger, but when I got in my car, A.F.I. just felt like the right band to listen to.
This Celluloid Dream: from Sing the Sorrow

December 8, 2005 R #

First Light

I was in the control room today when our engineers pulled the first light from the sensor in our payload. We've been running all kinds of configuration and system tests for the past couple weeks. We finally turned on the sensor, and got the image spot we're looking for. It's a good laugh seeing a crew of umpteen engineers half circled around a computer, waiting for the data to come through. The engineer with the mouse clicks the button on the MatLab analysis tool, and everybody says "Ohhhhh!!!!" when they see a chart that looks something like this.


December 20, 2005 T #

Karen grabbed a few of us and we headed to this Mass Music Dome thing.

(the code behind the program)

It was worth going to. They used these 60' lines strung up in the place to make "earth harps". The whole thing was this gathering of the coolest instruments and lighting you can think up, and putting on a show.

I got to talk with Peter Diamandis last week (founder of the X Prize). We talked about near and long term space plans, but before I talk about that, there was a lot of other interesting stuff that came from it.

"Evolution through Competition"

Walking into the X Prize ... 'offices' would be the word, but that doesn't communicate the idea. The whole enviornment is that of a grass roots, lean, high speed, can do, centroid of people building projects elsewhere in the world. They don't come to the office to be in the office. They come to the office to leverage their power for completing their projects that exist outside the office. The few pictures on the walls are of recent accomplishments, and they're surrounded by papers, lists, and schematics of future accomplishments in the works. Everything on the walls, desks, and floor space has a functional purpose.

I ran into Brooke Owens, a friend I hadn't seen since last year during the X Prize. She spent the last eight months in Mojave building a scale composite model of SpaceShipOne. She gets stoked about showing it to little kids, and them being awestruck and excited at seeing a real space ship. The cool part is... what they're looking at really is a real space ship. I also met Chelsea Sexton. Chelsea is a new addition to the team, organizing a competition similar to the Ansari X Prize, but focusing on Alternative Energy. She has spent several years in the automotive alt fuel industry, and thinks the new hybrid cars are good, but "they're not good enough yet." Seeing Chelsea focused on this new branch brought another dimension to the X Prize principle "Evolution through Competition."

This ties directly into a leadership principle I was reading in Jack Welch's book. He quotes some famous literary work On War, speaking of how the generals approached war with a guiding principle. "They did not expect a plan of operation to survive beyond first contact with the enemy... strategy was not a lengthy action plan. It was the evolution of a central idea through continually  changing circumstances." The central idea of the X Prize is this concept of Evolution through Competition. It is a guiding principle that is growing in application, and will create the future envisioned by those acting on this plan.

In this same segment on war, Jack notes the "independent will of the opponent." In war, an independent will acts in opposition, but the principle carries over to cooperative efforts. You cannot (and should not attempt to) control the will of those with whom you work toward an objective. You must undertake your objective with the clear understanding that at any turn, people who have joined your purpose may depart from the cause, may have differing judgment on the path they want to take toward accomplishment,  and some may unexpectedly show up to contribute their thought and effort. The collective progress is the collective result of people of independent will.

Sometimes it's funny how progressive minds think alike. Peter Diamandis is interested space exploration as well as alternative energy. A few weeks ago I was at a lunch with Elon Musk, leader of SpaceX (they're currently on the launch pad with their first Falcon rocket) and he explained "When I sold PayPal, I was thinking about what I wanted to do now, and the two things that seemed like the best pursuits were Space Exploration and Alternative Energy. I looked at the two, and alternative energy seemed to have some natural economic drivers. Progress would be made in energy, so I decided to look further into Space Exploration."

I noticed a unique indicator in Elon, and it came up indirectly. One of the guys there asked what Elon has in mind after the Falcon rockets, particularly regarding plans for Mars. "Surely you have a notebook where you're sketching in your ideas for Mars." Elon speaks openly about plans for a rocket large enough to move substantial payloads to Mars, but his response was unexpected. "No. I'm focusing on getting these rockets working, and making them profitable. I don't know what I'll do after that."

I see this example as instructive for approaching life and accomplishments. In simple terms, it says "Keep your eye on the ball." At this moment, Elon has the power to create a family of rockets that can provide affordable man-rated access to space. He is focused on creating this necessary stepping stone. Without this step, he cannot have the power to create access to Mars. Without success in the Falcon rockets, planning for travel to Mars is nothing more than wistful musing. This is in line with the afore mentioned principle of guiding action around "a central idea through continually changing circumstances." Furthermore, he is living such that his goals allow for the independent will of others to play out as they choose. Elon succeeded with Zip2, then he reevaluated his circumstances, and succeeded with PayPal. After PayPal he did another evaluation of circumstance, and is now succeeding with SpaceX. After SpaceX, he'll take another evaluation and choose what to do.

This is exemplary of a recipe for success, but it is also a recipe for fulfillment in life. It is exemplary of genuine humility, coupled with genuine courage. Elon takes accounting of the reality of his capacity for power. He acknowledges where he has power, and just how far that power extends. He does not downplay his power, nor does he struggle for power beyond his reach. This is humility. Elon acknowledges the full capacity of the power he has, and he uses it for what he chooses. Setting out to develop a new rocket is no small task.
There is a long list of failed rocket companies. Elon has the financial, technical, and organizational power to create a paradigm shift in civilization... and he acknowledges it in word and action. This is courage.

Fulfillment in life comes from what we are. Fulfillment does not come from what we are becoming, what we have become, what we have, or what we do. As individuals, we experience fulfillment in life/existence according to the extent to which we embody traits such as humility and courage. On the flip side, we experience degradation to the extent we fall into vices such as Vain Ambition. Vain Ambition can never be satisfied. Vain Ambition is the carrot on the stick. It can keep people driving and moving over great distances, resulting in great accomplishments, but so long as you are chasing a carrot on a stick, you will never be fulfilled. Elon exemplifies these traits of humility and courage, and averts the pitfall of vain ambition, by keeping his focus on that which he has power to influence. He's not chasing a grand dream that he may or may not have the power to reach. He pursues the greatest desire he has the power to create. He's aware that his success will lead to more power, but does not waste effort on plans beyond his present power. He is living in the now, living toward his vision of the future.

Elon didn't speak of any of this, so we can't project that these are his thoughts / beliefs. These are just my inferences, made from my own observation and thoughts.

Tying all this into my conversation with Peter, we find the common principles of focusing on the present objective, the individual will, and see it applied to changing circumstances. Peter gave up on NASA and the large corporate players in manned space twenty years ago, and he didn't veil his judgment that any time I spend with such companies will be time wasted. Under the conditions Peter had twenty years ago, he chose to take the path he has taken, and he has been highly successful with it. Peter's conviction is strong, his case is clear and sound, and it moved me to seriously reevaluate the feasibility of my own plan. In the end, I learned a few things and developed a more accurate vision of what I want to accomplish in both the near and long term.

Elon came to play in space after he had been highly successful in other fields. Peter entered the space arena early on, and has created opportunity after opportunity to drive incremental progress. My circumstances are different than those of Elon and Peter. I do not carry the passion for space that Peter carries. That doesn't mean that my work will be less effective.  It is not our passion for a cause that makes us effective, but our work for a cause (this points merits a whole entry in itself). My objective regarding space exploration is more akin to Elon's objective. It looks like the best playground/workfield to spend my time in. I choose space, and at any given time, I may choose something else. For now, this is my focus. Given my present horizon of opportunity, my power to act within this horizon, and my power to influence what my horizon will be in the future, I have refined my plan of action.

The process of finalizing my application to MIT,  in conjunction with evaluating my plans after speaking with Peter, was very valuable. Previously, I saw my application to MIT as a means to an end (getting accepted). As it tuns out, it became a highly valuable tool for defining  my plans, and how I will achieve them. Serious reevaluation, under scrutiny for realistic feasibility, can be somewhat intellectually demanding (at least for my little mind). Integrity is a valuable trait. In this case, integrity is the trait that led to the thorough development of what I feel is an entirely feasible plan, which I am ready and positioned to carry out. There were several things I could have written that would have been just what the admissions committee wanted to hear... and I could argue that they were real... but they weren't. They would have been an act. Giving in to the temptation to submit an application that was "good enough" would have got me admitted, but I wouldn't have developed the focus of purpose that I have gained by maintaining full honesty in the process. This only reinforces my belief in the value of the central idea of integrity that I continually apply to all circumstances. Convenient, isn't it?

I designed my path such that it is precisely in line with the objectives of MIT's LFM program, Northrop Grumman's objectives in sponsoring me for the program, and my personal objectives for the life I want to experience. Conveniently, this is more concretely feasible than the previous partially vague plan I carried.

And now I'm bored with writing this. I thought I was going to outline my plan, and my case supporting it, but it looks like that won't happen... at least not now. But that's no big deal. The "
evolution of a central idea through continually  changing circumstances" is the real source of the plan anyway; not a "lengthy plan of action" (even though the lengthy plan of action has certainly been made... and is the tactically necessary component of all this theory I've been spouting). And now that I've written this, it's apparent that close to nobody will want to read any of it. If you made it this far, fire me an email so I can laugh at knowing that somebody endured this whole entry. It's been worthwhile for me. As for you, I hope you enjoyed it, or stopped reading when it stopped being interesting.

Mike: CalTech PhD, Karen: fun Space-Art Girl,  Hannah: Art Girl, Scott: Thermal Eng at Beoing.

December 21, 2005 W #

"Well, I read your entire post.  But that really shouldn't come as a surprise since I studied quaternions a few nights ago to keep myself entertained."

Hmm... so it's at least as interesting as quaternions. Great...
I think I'll be featured on the cover of Wired soon.

December 23, 2005 F #

I love Christmas, I love Christmas lights, and I love going back to Colorado...
But I HATE packing.

We had a grand vision for what Christmas lightst could do to that tree in our front yard, but ideas take time to implement, and this one didn't happen. Even so, the blue lights were fun.

Last night Ryan's girlfriend, Erica, had her Mom and little sister (I think) rolling through town, so they crashed at our place on the way through. Mike and I were left to manage this little four year old while her Mom did some shopping. I was dubbed "brother", Mike was dubbed "daddy", and Lexi took the title "princess."

Lexi: Can I have a drink? I want water please.
brother: Here you go.
Lexi: I need a staw. Can I have a straw please, sir?
brother: Mike, do we have any straws?
* * *
brother: Here's your pizza.
Lexi: Thank you brother. Do you have any flowers?
brother: Do we have any what?
Lexi: I need to smell them so I can eat?
brother: ...?... This is a guy's house. We don't have flowers.
* * *
Lexi: Can I have another piece of pizza please, sir?
brother: What? You still have half a piece left!
Lexi: But the good part is gone.
* * *

Mike's first time on a longboard... and he got it run over by a car less than 100 yards from our house.

Cool kid though. He's the last of nine kids, his parents migrated from England, struggled to raise their family, but pulled it through. Now every one of his brothers and sisters are doing very well in business, law, research, teaching, and everything else.

And of course...
Merry Christmas to all!!!


December 2005