Terra-forming? Who pays these guys?

Call me aging, call me a man who ditched engineering for management – call me anything!

As a teenager growing up in India, running short of gardening space and water, I was very excited about Terra-forming of Mars and Titan. I had not heard of Terra-forming of Venus and the world did not consider Terra-forming of Europa. Exoplanets were unheard of altogether.

Many years back, I had convinced my then employer to buy an (rather) expensive but proven tool for bug prevention. Unfortunately it required to carry out the work in slightly different way. Guess what? I am still licking wounds from that disaster.

None even paid me for *implementing* (not imagining, I mean) a networking testing strategy which I’d name “combinatorial detonation”. This strategy discovered a lot of problems without having to write many test cases! This saved money right in hand but my salary did not increase by a single penny.

So I started reviewing my wonders for much less resources, scope, time and “systemic disruption”. Then came a sudden realization – Terra-forming? Who pays these guys?

Was I, with an H1-B, at a disadvantage compared to Carl Sagan? Was not being a professor such a mistake?

Probably there are two Americas. And I doubt whether Carl Sagan’s America would survive longer.

In my case, wonder about ability to change through technology alone ended with the burst of 2001.

Hope of bringing positive, lasting change in human life through technology with prudent marketing is setting fast with prolonging of economic disaster of 2008.

The only surprise is that hope outlived wonder.

And half-humorously speaking, Green guys have almost convinced me that anything I will do will doom killer whales and tigers.

I was reading “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov. Man, there is no consideration about anything green in there! The Vice President of Tropical Areas took pride in thinning jungles!

I know wonder and hope win in long run over pragmatism and wisdom.

My question to my readers is, given the economic despair, do you think they will in our life time?

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4 comments on “Terra-forming? Who pays these guys?

  1. Yash says:

    Do you remember Dr. Robert Lucky? Equalizers and echo cancelers. Intersymbol interference removers. Made in America. Made by Dr. Lucky.

    Dr. Lucky is as ingenious a mathematician, as resourceful a researcher, as filled with wonder and hope as the best in the world get.

    Dr. Lucky used to write one-page articles on the last page of IEEE Spectrum magazine. In one such article, he has opined a sentiment quite similar to what you say here.

    He says that the days of Claude Shannons, Alan Turings and Albert Einsteins, one-man armies that bring about revolution, may well be over. Today it is a big collective pulling of human resources is what works. At Microsoft, at Oracle, at IBM, even at AT&T Bell Labs, his corporate alma mater. It’s no longer a Hercules who rules, its the ant colony that now moves the mountains.

    He wrote this probably when he had retired from active research. He had seen the world. He had realized that pragmatism wins over wonder in today’s world.

    That was before Larry Page came up with the web search algorithm, and Mark Zuckerberg tuned the FB in to a phenomenon 🙂

    The Black Swan book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes an argument that goes to the heart of this. The world is governed by the Black Swan events. Hard to predict event, that no one is able to imagine happening a-priori but everyone says “oh, was so obvious” a-posteriori. It is these events that bring cataclysmal shifts in the world; they end up defining the world after their occurrences.

    Google. Facebook. Hope and Wonder!

  2. bhushit says:

    Yes and no.
    I don’t say things won’t change. I say wonder will die.
    Frankly, I don’t see Google or Facebook as “next wonders” – from technical perspective. From execution and marketing point of view, they are as wonderful as it could be!
    I am a bit hesitant to say whether next equivalent of an assembly line or the electricity or a nuclear plant (and nuclear weapons) would be easy to come across. Such things need true-blue finance backing. My feeling is that financier in general has gone from cautious to timid in current climate. [I wish I am wrong.]
    Someone was paying Sagan to draw out Terra-forming plans. Someone was paying to Tolkien while “Lord of Rings” was being written. Once funds dry up, genius starves.
    This had happened IMHO in Indian history. Harshavardhana (the irresponsible, in my view) donated his exchequer thrice to Sangha. This ended the golden age of Indian creativity. Within 3 centuries, the country was not only fragmented and ruled by illiterate opium addicts, it succumbed to destructive forces of Medieval Islam.
    I see similar things happening to the West.
    Ignore it your peril but patronage is a big force!

  3. Yash says:

    Agree. Genius starves if funds dry up. No doubt about that.

    That is, however, one facet of multi-faceted possibilities that real life is filled with. I am sure many end up on the facet that you are focusing on.

    However, another facet is that the genius solves the clear and present need way better than the available alternatives, on a shoe-string budget at the first, but with huge amount of funding afterwards from Andy Bechtolsheims and Vinod Khoslas of the world, soon to be followed by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanleys.

    Yet another facet is that the genius solves the puzzle, attracts the investors, only to realize that the solution had a fallacy, making it useless. The investors shun him, the funds dry up. But the persistence of the inventor does not. One person who went through this and eventually brought about revolution is Charles Goodyear. There are many others like Goodyear.

    There are probably other facets of the real life where the creativity has overcome a dry funding situation.

    Still your point is taken. There are many facets of real life where the person with the purse would have stifled the person with a creative bent. May be that happens more frequently in the day to day life.

    • bhushit says:

      There is more to it. I think I have repeated it number of times in my blog about my basic worry.
      Progress of science and technology must not only not stop, it must also not slow down till fruits of science reach to much wider population – at least to BRICS countries. Otherwise within a century, all the humanitarian gains – for minorities, for women – everything will wipe out.
      If funds dry up, we are facing slowing down of scientific progress. If scientific progress slows down, human values will fall back to medieval age.

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