Apollo 11 as a Paradigm

Saturday, July 20, 2013
Apollo 11: Task Accomplished
“That we had seen a demonstration of man at his best, no one could doubt—this was the cause of the event’s attraction and of the stunned numbed state in which it left us. And no one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being—an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality.”– Ayn Rand

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The Virtues of Aviation Culture
The facts of reality force an ethos on pilots. The virtues of aviation are Intelligence, Self-Control, Independent Judgment, and Honor. Within these overlapping spheres are other concepts, often shades of meaning with arguable differentiations among them.

Monday, July 8, 2013
Knowledge Maps
Even if the philosophers could decide on a common vocabulary and a common narrative, the primary constraint may be the very dependence on verbal expressions: graphs might serve everyone better. Outside of information systems, we do not study means of graphical representation, except, of course, for actual artists.
Readability is the only Metric
Documentation is Specification
The Genius of Design
The Art of Typography
How to Hire a Technical Writer

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Bob Swanson and Genentech
Bob Swanson was 29 when he provided the money for Prof. Herbert Boyer to start Genentech. Like all overnight successes, the real story is more complicated, with deep roots. Bright, accomplished, and motivated, Swanson had obvious potential – and a string of failures to show for it. In the book, 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium, (New York :, Kodansha International, 1998) the authors ranked Bob Swanson number 612 for launching the biotechnology revolution.

After a year of battling brain cancer via surgery and chemotherapy Bob Swanson passed away on Monday, December 6, 1999, at his home in Hillsborough, California. He was 52.


Venture Capital

Friday, June 28, 2013
Venture Capital
“Writing the check is the easy part.” Genentech, Apple, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, … none of them would exist, nor would a hundred others that created billions of dollars worth of new wealth by delivering new inventions. More than the money – though there was that – venture capitalists brought expertise in management and marketing, guiding start-ups, connecting people with each other, sometimes even making the most difficult of all decisions, to fire the founder CEO for the good of the company.

Everyone knows Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; many recognize Nolan Bushnell, Gordon Moore, and Mike Markkula. Fewer have heard of Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins, or Don Valentine. Something Ventured (website here) is their story, the viewpoint of the venture capitalist. They are a humble lot. At the end of the movie, they admit that writing the check is the easy part. Without the inventors, the creators, the innovators, the visionaries, they would have nothing in which to invest. But, invest they did – and do.
“They saw opportunity where others only saw risk.”

Atlas Shrugged’s John Aglialoro
Capitalist Culture: Cairo 1600
Tribute to Steve Jobs
The One Percent are the Atlases

Recently on Necessary Facts

(The main site is on Blogspot here. This is an archive, not quite a mirror.)

Monday, May 6, 2013
Last night, on patrol, I met a Muse. Kalliope, the muse of epic poetry passed by at 6th and Congress. She was coming from 6th and San Jacinto where she had been performing.

She handed me a slip of paper. “Q: What did Athena say to Medusa? … A: I haven’t seen you in Aegis.”

Friday, April 26, 2013
Disruptive Diagnostics and the Business of Science

Former UT professor Tom Kodadek returned to address the postdoctoral student association of the School of Biological Sciences on April 25. He met a full house of about 250. The title of his talk was “The Ups and Downs of Moving ‘Disruptive’ Diagnostic and Therapeutic Technology from the Lab to the Real World.” Dr. Kodadek is now with the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Originally funded by the NIH, his work is now marketed by OPKO Health, Inc.,which found the angel funding he needed to bring his theories to realization.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Objectified is a film by Gary Hustwit about design, designers, and the objects that they create. Dieter Rams of Braun and Apple’s Jonathan Ive appear, of course. (See, The Genius of Design below.) So do thirty other designers, and a couple of supportive critics, such as Paola Antonelli of the Museum of Modern Art. IKEA and Target both get cameo roles as they deliver to us the magic of inexpensive mass produced items that ennoble us, their owners, with the spiritual benefits of good design. You and I also appear in anonymous walk-ons because in the words of Andrew Blauvelt, “anything that is touched by man, is transformed by man, is by its very nature designed.” The human-built environment is design.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Genius of Design

“For industrial designers, the world is never enough. They give shape and texture to the world to make it livable—indeed, beautiful—for the rest of us. This fascinating five-part documentary examines the art and science of design and the stuff it shapes, from computer chips to cityscapes and everything in between. See the evolution from artisans’ workshops to industrial mass production, and the profound changes it has wrought in our economy, society, and environment.” – from the promotional.

Friday, March 29, 2013 and Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Engines of Creation
The folks at Code.Org created a video with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others, encouraging kids to learn to program computers. That much is laudable. Disgracing the video, with an odd anti-capitalist mentality, is a segment by Drew Houston of Dropbox about how much fun it is to be a programmer. (View from the 3:00 minute to the 4:00 minute mark of this 5:44 announcement.) Was it the fun of 48 hours in three days to solve a tough problem? No, it is the fun of skateboarding in the office, playing ping pong, and chatting with your fields. The segment also touts free food including gourmet cooking three times a day. But where do these come from, if no one works? Blank out.

Goofing to a Meltdown?
After the Code.Org video touting “fun at work” (see the post before this one), this article appeared on March 28 on CNN.com about the positive side of “goofing off at work.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Start the presses!
Reviews of two movies about typography, Justin Nagan’s Typeface and Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica.

The fundamental principles of composition are constant. Styles are invented, transformed, evolved. Good styles depend upon the adaptation of principles and then validate those principles. The composition may be poetry or prose, music or dance, sculpture or painting, but the same principles govern: order, structure, and motion; rhythm, melody, and harmony; contrast, conflict and resolution. These make a symphony or a skyscraper or this page.

BSides Austin: Hackers Defend Your Data

The 3-1/2 day event (March 20-23) kicked off with a screening at the Paramount Theater of Code 2600, Jeremy Zerechak’s documentary about the origins and present reality of computer hacking and privacy issues. The festival officially began the next morning at the Wingate by Wyndham in Round Rock. Registration was $10 per day for the official 2-day event. The movie was extra. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beer (courtesy of New Republic Brewing of College Station) came with the price of admission. Conference schwag included t-shirts and complicated ballpoint pens. Other giveaways and door prizes were plentiful. Officially closing Friday at 5:00 PM,. an after-party and Saturday field trip to Texas A&M’s Disaster City training center capped the hacking holiday of hard work.
Special two-day games included a lockpicking contest, a social engineering challenge, and “capture the flag.”

Lockpicking is a traditional cultural aspect of hacking. The practical side for computer security professionals is that business managers typically hang five dollar locks on server racks with millions of dollars of data: you need to know your exposed risks.

“Social engineering” is the engagement of hapless intermediaries as tools to reveal and expose software and hardware. The two-day challenge was limited to the hotel and the adjacent shopping center: the residential neighborhood with its homes, day care, school, and senior center were off limits.

“Capture the flag” involves a server loaded with typical applications. The defense team must keep the system up and running while offense teams attempt to break in.

Sponsors included RackSpace, Digital Defense Inc., Visible Risk, RSA, Rapid 7, Palo Alto Networks, Mandiant, ISSA of Texas, Pwnie Express, Security Innovation, Tenable, The Denim Group, Milton (providers of shwagg), Last Pass, Haking, the International Association of Forensic Investigators, Longhorn Lockpicking, and New Republic Brewery of College Station. Also mentioned were “Protect Your Nuts” and “Kommand && Kontrol: Revenge of the Carders.”

Money was collected for two charities, “Hackers in Uganda” and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, via the sale of conference buttons. EFF is famous for protecting and extending rights in cyberspace. “Hackers in Uganda” is to be a film by Jeremy Zerechak.

Conference summary and review continues here.


“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those which are there.” – Richard Feynman

James Gleick’s biography begins by correcting some of the myths about Feynman. Feynman created some of them himself, of course. Overall, the book is yet another tribute. Gleick fills in the narrative that Feynman left out of the two popularizations of his life, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?


Underlying and beyond the stories Gleick explains the physics, as best as can be done, in colloquial English. Motivated, I browsed the stacks at the Austin Public Library and checked out Quantum Field Theory Demystified by David McMahon and Understanding Quantum Mechanics by Roland Omnès. Both were approximately the kind of book a physics major would read over the summer before the sophomore year. Though I renewed the check-out, after five weeks, I still did not get much, but gleaned what I could. Relevant here is the fact that just as the Pythagorean Theorem can be shown synthetically and analytically, the truths in quantum mechanics can be expressed with three different methods: wave equations, statistical equations, and Feynman path integrals. Gleick devotes considerable effort to explaining Feynman’s work, given that the intended audience is people who like physics, but really do not understand it.

Open Secrets

Cancelled postal envelopes showing dates of secret satellite launches.

Engineers celebrate their work.

Openness brings risk.  We all take the keys from the car and lock the doors when we leave it parked. While the need to secure our infrastructure is clear, it is more important to maintain, reward and enhance the creation and  transmission of information, money, goods, services, and people.
But for 100 years collectivists right and left declared that our open society would be easy to infiltrate and destroy. We’re here. The Nazis and Communists are gone. Today, the open society, the agora, is attacked by new enemies who fear knowledge.  In Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics Jane Jacobs identified the dichotomy between the commercial ethos and the guardian way. Secrecy is important to police forces, armies, charities, and socialist economies.  On the other hand, scientists, farmers, and merchants depend on open communication.
Read more here.


The Big Whimper of Modern Philosophy

The Big Bang Theory and Philosophy: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Aristotle, Locke by Dean A. Kowalski, editor (John Wiley & Sons, 2012). The book is not a total loss: some interesting points, tidbits of knowledge, and some amusement are to be found.  If you love the show, you can probably stand most of this book. Overall, this was a big whimper.

Cover of the book "Philosophy and the Big Bang Theory"

These seventeen essays come mostly from professors of philosophy.  It is part of a “pop culture and philosophy” series that includes South Park and Philosophy, and The Big Lebowsky and Philosophy, among 28 titles, with more announced, including The Simpsons and Philosophy.  The non-judgmental range of titles is internally consistent with the post-modernist presentation here.  

None of the authors seems to appreciate why the show is so successful.  As philosophers (a few social scientists), they generally sneer at knowledge and those who pursue it.

Read full post here.