inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #76 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 9 Jun 03 16:17
    
Jeez, Cynthia, you never give up! Okay, okay. In 1981-86 I was senior
media officer for the National Research Council of Canada. At the start
of my tenure Canada had just donated the SRMS, or Shuttle Remote
Manipulator System, to NASA. North of the border, the space arm is
nicknamed the Canadarm. It's a fabulous piece of robotics, but unlike
many such systems it's so simple to use that your average Colt-toting,
gum-chewing atronaut can figure it out in thirty seconds. 

The arm's first flight was STS-2, the second flight of the Shuttle:
crew, Commanders Truly & Engle. And the robot arm worked flawlessly. So
with the thing deployed and the astronauts gibbering with joy over the
system, my boss and I decided to break from our arduous schedule and
attend the official Canada-US government party to celebrate.

Only there was no party. Somehow External Affairs (CDN) and State
(USA) had, uhhhhhhh, somehow neglected to consider what might happen if
the f_____g thing went off without a hitch first go. Dismayed this not
our valiant lieutenants, Atkinson and Cherwinsky? Ay: As sparrows
eagles, or the hare the lion. We had, um, picked up, sort of, from
colleagues in the US Astronaut Corps, the datum that Moosehead was
their favorite brew. So we got on the phone, called the Moosehead
Brewery up in Atlantic Canada, explained the situation, and had 'em
expedite 66 cases of The Moose to our favorite oyster bar in Port
Canaveral. This place - dammit, the name escapes me; probably because I
left too much of my prefrontal cortex there over the years - has a
zinc-topped oyster bar, a hollow X whose total circumference is
something like 120 yards. So it was there we had The Moose sent, and
there the (earthbound) astronauts and we convened an ad-hoc party, and
there...Well. I do remember a high-speed 3 AM ride in a very, very fast
speedboat docked in Port Canaveral. What a blast. State and External
should have hired me on the spot to smooth over their little diplomatic
tiffs. 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #77 of 133: Teleologically dyslexic (ceder) Tue 10 Jun 03 10:14
    
Thanks for the oyster/beer story.  It has comforted me from the
dispair the impending emerging techno-replacements fears that inundate
me.  

How would one self-educate in these new technologies?
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #78 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 10 Jun 03 13:29
    
Teleologically dyslexic: Love your nickname! I've stopped using
"telos" as a noun since our local phone company changed its name to
Telus. All I do is create confusion. But what a needless loss of a
perfectly good word! All those synthetic firm names really gum up the
language, don't they? At least I had the grace to raid another language
for my own. 

The good news is that I do indeed have a sure-fire way to avoid being
put to pasture by uppity machines. I write about machines! And systems,
and medicine, and every technology. As many tigers as appear, then, I
prosper by leaping on their backs and riding 'em. At least I have to
date: somewhere out there (no doubt) is an AI system that has a science
writer's name on it. Input a topic line and three key URLs, and six
femtoseconds later there's 1500 words in flawless English. I am not
holding my breath for this to occur, however. Such an AI system would
have to be written by techies whose grasp of English is significantly
less than their grasp of calculus. Like, uh, LOL. 

If you want a technical education that's obsolescence-resistant,
forget it. Ideally, modern education would teach you how to learn, so
that however much things changed you could adapt. Bob Heinlein pointed
this out in (I think) 1939 in his novel "Beyond This Horizon." But
modern education doesn't do this, though it says it does. Its telos
(hah!) is to bombard you with a welter of facts, mixed inextricably in
with a welter of oddball theories presented as facts. This forces you
to be a data-processing machine. Add to this the removal of
cloud-watching time in today's society, and you see that even when new
ideas come knocking, there's seldom anyone there to answer the door. 

So what to do? Read poetry and novels, mostly old. Learn enough math
and science to read a journal paper and ask: Okay, but what have they
left out? Read 19th- and 20th-century polymaths such as Darwin, Lyell
and Eiseley who have the brains and glands to discuss not only the how,
but also the why. Then define your own profession. Good luck.
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #79 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 10 Jun 03 16:45
    
So, 66 cases of Moosehead and a bunch of hard-drinkin' flyboys-turned-
astronauts. Sounds like quite an experience, Bill. How long were you down in
Florida, hanging out with the Space Program people?
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #80 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 10 Jun 03 22:04
    
On and off from 1980-86. Fascinating people. The female astronauts
were great dancers. The males were amazing drinkers. Industrial-
strength livers. It takes a lot to awe me, but they did. And after the
parties, they could get up at 4 AM fresh as a daisy. Amazing. 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #81 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Wed 11 Jun 03 09:10
    
To readers: Nanocosm was deliberately written to be controversial,
with strong opinions strongly stated (and backed up by strong factual
evidence). I'm not shy, and I'm willing to be convinced I'm wrong as
well as to be seconded in whatever I've said. So if you're a strong
supporter of, say, the molecular-assembler concept, don't hesitate to
write in. Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis: we'll both learn something! And
we can show the world how to conduct civilized debate. 

- Bill 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #82 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Wed 11 Jun 03 09:39
    

Bill,

The opinions were fine and refreshing in many ways. But I have to
disagree with the strong factual evidence. I'm not disputing the facts
presented; just that in a couple of ways you didn't go far enough.

A bibliography of references would have been nice. The inline style you
use barely provides enough information for further research.

It would have been nice to see the papers and books people have written.
Usually a manager will have his technical people assess a concept, idea,
or project that is cited. Quite often, this involves research. it's
helpful to know what is published and what is personal communications.

Even Scientific American has "Further Readings".

Dave
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #83 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 11 Jun 03 11:42
    
(NOTE: Folks who are reading this but don't have WELL accounts can join the
conversation by sending their comments or questions to 
inkwell-hosts@well.com)
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #84 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Wed 11 Jun 03 19:07
    
Welcome back Airman! I like your suggestions, and I'm going to take
them into account when Nanocosm goes into a second edition. In fact so
much of the book was based on original interviews an dnew ideas that I
could have put ten footnotes and cross-references on every page. I
finally elected to do all or nothing, and chose nothing - feeling that
a forest of footnotes would bog down the flow. But now, a separate set
of notes in a separte Appendix seems a good idea. Of course I'd have to
indicate where my phraseology was taken from earlier writers: e.g.
"fine ratiocinative meditativeness" was Sam Johnson's assessment of
Hamlet.
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #85 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Wed 11 Jun 03 23:38
    
Thanks
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #86 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 12 Jun 03 07:32
    
We could put up a small list here, too.

Feynman's "room at the bottom" lecture is online at 
  http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynmanWeb.html

Zyvex also has a good place to start for web resources in general:
     http://www.zyvex.com/nano/

This page has a good short explanation of nanotechnology, too. 

(these are Ralph C Merkle's pages; not sure how he relates to Zyvex)


The entire text of Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler is online at 
http://www.foresight.org/EOC/

This is I think the book that most of us read first. 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #87 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 12 Jun 03 08:12
    
> when Nanocosm goes into a second edition ...

Does that mean you're looking at a second printing, Bill? Or a revised
"second edition" at some point in the future?

And what are your plans as far as your next writing project? What have you
got up your sleeve?
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #88 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 12 Jun 03 09:58
    
Cynthia: A revised second edition may be possible: we'll see. Sales
seem ramping up (latest data, current to New York June 11). Normally
when I write a book I'm done with it, like a cat with grown kittens.
But so much is happening so fast that I wouldn't mind revisiting
nanotech, always providing that my publisher concurs.

That being said, I do have an idea for my next book. It was suggested
to me by my 8-year-old wunderkind, wee Stuart. 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #89 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 12 Jun 03 10:00
    
Becky: Good idea to put in references in any 2nd edition. (Revised!
Enlarged! Slightly Less Combative!) I believe Dr Merkle is one of the
Directors of Zyvex; he is certainly involved with IMM (The Institute
for Molecular Manufacturing) and the Foresight Institute (whose chair
is Mr Drexler).
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #90 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 12 Jun 03 15:14
    
> I do have an idea for my next book. It was suggested
>  to me by my 8-year-old wunderkind, wee Stuart.

care to elaborate?
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #91 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 12 Jun 03 22:02
    
Nahhh. Want to run it by my agents first. Sorry to be coy. But I don't
want somebody sharp (e.g. someone who taps into The Well) to come
across it and say, Hey! I can do that! 
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #92 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Jun 03 08:41
    
Ah, well then, I guess I'll just have to think of my OWN idea for a book to
write.



  (lumbering off, mumbling and grumbling...)
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #93 of 133: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 13 Jun 03 11:01
    
heh!
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #94 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Jun 03 11:34
    
So, Bill, if there was one problem you'd like to see nanotechnology solving
-- any problem, no matter how pie-in-the-sky -- what would it be?
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #95 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Jun 03 12:59
    

Also, I wanted to mention that even though we've moved the virtual spotlight
to a new Inkwell guest, we'd love to have you stay on with us as long as you
like, Bill. We thank you for joining us, and hope you'll stick around.

Also, thanks to you, Betsy, for leading this discussion. It's been great!
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #96 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 13 Jun 03 14:16
    
Cynthia: Thanks! More controversy to come; e.g. check out this URL.
They love me or hate me, nothing in between: that's for sure. 

http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0583.html

Betsy:I'd see the extrapolation of Neil Branda's work in molecular
catalysis as the Next Big Thing in Nanotech. If he can pull this off,
he's going to (1) Revolutionize chemistry; (2) Pull the focus of NNI,
DARPA, and NIH away from physics and place it where it belongs, on
chemistry and materials science; (3) Get himself a Nobel Prize or two.
He's also the most amazing chef.
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #97 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 13 Jun 03 23:58
    
>They love me or hate me, nothing in between: that's for sure.

Sounds like Drexler...jest kidding!!!
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #98 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sat 14 Jun 03 09:43
    
Ah, Airman, you touch a nerve. We're always more like our opponents
than we care to admit, aren't we? The bitterest enemies on the sport
field still use the same equipment. And lawyers or academics at daggers
drawn work with the same data; they simply put different spins on it.
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #99 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sat 14 Jun 03 10:08
    
ANd yet, every revolution shoots both the lawyers, who are first, and
then the intellectuals.
  
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #100 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 15 Jun 03 06:55
    
Well, as I understand the criticism of the book, there are two
threads. One is the reaction to the criticism of Drexler. The other is
the charge that you got some of the technology wrong.

You're certainly not alone in criticizing Drexler. I did find the
breeziness of your dismissal irritating sometimes - but I don't think
you're wrong about the way the science is going. The Kurzweil article
in <#96.> sort of misses the point - were you making fun of
Nnaosystems for being too *technical*, or for working out details in a
way that can't exist at that scale?

The other criticism I find more disturbing. Are the scientists picking
at nits that don't detract from the basic goal of helping the business
person understand the technology, or are there really major errors?
If the goal is to help the business person speak enough of the science
to understand the headlines and communicate with the scientists in the
business, I suspect your book is a better bet than "nanosystems".
(going to www.bn.com, I see there are some other recent business books
on nanotechnology...)

I just have my suspicion - that you're right -that we won't build
little bionanomachines that act like teeny mechanical gears and binary
computers - that before this technology can work we'll have to "crack"
the biological "code" and build things that work like tiny neurons or
tiny bacteria and tiny white blood cells. **smart** cells. 

Why does that sound more frightening than a smart teeny robot? 
  

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