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Monday, February 14, 2011

The Outcasts and the Dreamers (From the Space Center's Archives)

Hello Troops,
John Martellaro wrote this article. It discusses Macs and PCs (a modern debate with a flavor of the Crusades) and introduces us to revolutionizing the mainstream by pushing the envelope - thus moving the establishment forward. Our work at the Center does just that. I enjoyed the article and encourage you to read it. Share your thoughts by commenting.

Mr. W.
P.S. Thanks Bill for bringing it to my attention.

Utopia Planitia
I recall the proposition by the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) that the first starship will never be built by Earthlings. Heinlein maintained that only the children of the Lunar colonists or Martian colonists, having been born in space or Earth colonies, would have the vision to reach for the stars. Earthlings, on the other hand, would remain steadfastly mired in the mud of Earth politics - war, poverty, and taxes.

Heinlein doubted that the governments of Earth, having only an Earthly focus and
orientation will ever have the vision, courage, and money to build starships. Today, 37 years after the Apollo missions, we remain unprepared to make the commitment to building a space- faring infrastructure. Our first space station, the International Space Station (ISS), is not designed for the fabrication of additional space vessels in space. The Shuttle conducts routine tasks in low Earth orbit, but cannot even travel to the Moon and service a colony there. So how does this apply to computers?

The point here is that one can seldom make a quantum leap by being absorbed into the mainstream. Innovation, by definition, means something out of the ordinary. Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times, January 21, 1998, "Actually, Microsoft has been a force for greed in the economy, more brilliant at marketing and purloining and crushing than it has been at innovating." (Note: I will, generally, in this column, follow the company line set by Steve Jobs: Apple must succeed by building brilliant products, not by insisting that Microsoft is the enemy and must lose for Apple to win.) But I quote Ms.Dowd to make the point that if the general culture is moving in one direction, then it is almost surely due to human nature and human foibles. On the other hand, the people who have made the most impact on our culture, for the good of mankind, have almost always been courageous outcasts and renegades. Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Madam Currie, George Patton, Amelia Earhart, Harry Truman, just to name a few at random.

So if you are part of the mainstream, then you have been absorbed into what every one else is doing. (The whole point on Apple's 1984 commercial.) By default, you will always see things their way. You can never make a contribution to the group as a whole by giving up your individuality and going along with the group. You wear the blinders of the group. You care only for the passions of the group. But to step outside is to see the group in perspective.

Robert Heinlein saw the same effect in the governments of the world attitude towards space travel. (In his day, a slide rule and space travel were the absorbing interest of young scientists. Today, computers seem to have taken over that preoccupation.) He predicted that only those pioneers who left the Earth would be tough enough and
courageous enough to build a space-faring infrastructure.

To all those people who say, "Microsoft has won the war. Give in and go with the flow," we say, "You should go about your business. Those of us who work with the MacOS (and BeOS, Unix, and Linux) are the outcasts and the dreamers. We will pave the way with a different way of thinking and a different agenda. We want our freedom to create, and we enjoy the excellence of our systems. We will remain steadfastly on the outside while we invent the future."

If the time ever does come when technology enables us to leave the planet and build
a homestead on the Moon, Titan or Mars, you can bet that it will also be the renegades and outcasts that will be first in line to leave. The rest of mankind will remain, dwelling on the Green Hills of Earth, content to stay at home and be satisfied with what everyone else is doing.
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