======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 3 Number 6, Jul. 2004 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================
[Note: you are receiving this issue of C3M 4 weeks late because I found a problem with my bulk mail program that was failing to deliver about 15% of messages, and you were in the unlucky group. Hopefully I have resolved the problem. Stay tuned for part 2 in afew days.]

Goof Gas

~ or ~

Holding the Dream Hostage

(Part One)

"Sorry we haven't been able to bring you up-to-date, but very soon now the Cape will be shut back, terminating the North American Effort in Space. Except, of course, for you..." -- recorded message for returning astronaut in the audio comedy "How Time Flys" (1973) by David Ossman and the Firesign Theatre ( shop.store.yahoo.com/laughstore/daoshowtifl.html ) Thirty three years ago today, July 26, 1971, I saw a Saturn 5 rocket lift off from Cape Canaveral, carrying Apollo 15 to the moon. Today I showed my daughter a Quicktime movie of the science experiment done by astronaut David Scott on that mission, proving that a feather and a hammer fall at the same speed in the moon's vacuum. ( lisar.larc.nasa.gov/BROWSE/apollo.html ) It seems like I've always been a huge fan of space travel. I grew up with the Space Age: I was 4 when Sputnik launched, 8 when Alan Shepard flew, and 16 when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. I have a battered red backpack that has sewn onto it the mission patches of the four manned space missions I have seen launch or land: ( www.well.com/user/abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/backpack.jpg )
  • Apollo 15, Saturn 5 launch, July 26, 1971, Kennedy Space Center
  • Columbia mission STS-1, space shuttle launch, April 12, 1981, Kennedy Space Center
  • Columbia mission STS-2, shuttle orbiter landing, November 15, 1981, Edwards Air Force Base
  • Columbia mission STS-28, space shuttle launch, Aug. 8, 1989, Kennedy Space Center
( science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions ) Or I should say the first four. On June 21, 2004 my family, some friends and I witnessed the test flight of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, and pilot Mike Melvill's becoming the first person to reach outer space (100 km) in a vehicle that wasn't launched by a government. (This vehicle will competing in September for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million prize for the first vehicle to carry three humans up to 100 km twice in two weeks.) ( www.xprize.org ) For most of my life I have also been evolving towards a Libertarian political perspective. Perhaps it began with my love of the feisty science fiction of Robert Heinlein, in novels like "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (1966). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312863551/hip-20 ) I remember in high school when I began learning the physics of heat transfer, what they call "thermodynamics," and I came to understand that 50% energy waste was the theoretical maximum efficiency of any engine that turned heat to other forms of energy. Even then I had the intuition that taxing people and then having the government pay for things they could be buying directly was highly inefficient, like those heat engines. This point was subtly underlined by the comedy album "I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus" (1971) Firesign Theatre. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005T7IT/hip-20 ) At an EPCOT-like "future fair" an animatronic politician demonstrates a "model government," powered by a "ton of coke," and then explains "half a Watt comes in here, must go out there." Or -- punsters that they are -- did he say "half of what comes here must go out there" instead, completing the analogy between governments and heat engines? What I gleaned from this was government = entropy. Lately I have been casting about for an analogy that explains why I am always nervous when the government tries to solve a problem. Here's what I've come up with: suppose you're stuck someplace with a room full of people and you have a migraine headache which intensifies when there is a loud noise. "Please don't make noise," you ask of your companions. One of them stands on a chair and shouts "Nobody make any noise!" You ask them not to do that, and then another person starts banging garbage can lids together. "Don't stand on chairs and shout!" they bellow. And so on. This is the way government works, but instead of making noise, they spend money. Maybe I'm getting this from a story line on the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show in the early sixties called "Goof Gas Attack." Master spy villain Boris Badenov gets ahold of a gas that makes people stupid, and sprays it on Wasssamatta U., Bullwinkle's alma mater. All of the professors are turned to idiots. Then he goes on to Washington to spray the congress. But upon arriving he hears a congressman say, "I propose a thirty million dollar study to find out why the government is spending so much money." Boris decides someone has beat him to it, telling his assistant, Natasha Nogoodnik: "That IS goof gas." ( www.toontracker.com/bullwink/bulleps.htm ) But the two areas where my Libertarian politics seemed to have a blind spot were the environment (more on that in another issue of this e-Zine) and space. For too long I have gone along mindlessly with the assumption that our government should be in the space exploration business. Of course everyone with an awareness of history knows that John F. Kennedy got us started down this road. He addressed a joint session of congress on May 25, 1961, to ask for the money for the moon shot, saying: First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. (Was he using the expense of the project as a selling point?) But if you've seen any of the many documentaries and museum kiosk displays that deal with this challenge, what you have usually seen is an excerpt from another speech Kennedy gave on September 12, 1962, at Rice University. He said: But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? At this point the Rice attendees gave a big cheer. But the football reference is usually edited out of the kiosk versions. Over the roaring crowd (a far cry from his reception in congress, where they had to figure out how to pay for it), he goes on: We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. ( www.cs.umb.edu/jfklibrary/j091262.htm ) (Yay!) This revisionism isn't too big a deal in and of itself, but it is worth noting that NASA has been manipulating history for a while now to inflate its perceived support. [Aside: I almost wrote this month's e-Zine on the topic of "All I Know About Operations Research I Learned from Theme Parks," about my lifelong obsession with the Walt Disney Company and what it has taught me about organizational cybernetics, but I decided the topic at hand was more pressing, when I realized we'd just had the 35th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2004. I noticed a coincidental connection between the two topics. John F. Kennedy wen to Florida on November 16, 1963, to inspect progress on the moon program at Cape Canaveral. A week later he was dead. For more details see "Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations" by Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty. ( www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4204/ch7-7.html ) On the day of JFK's assassination, Walt Disney was flying over Orlando and saw the freeway interchange of Florida's Parkway and Interstate 4, and made the final selection of Orlando for his new Disney World resort. Walt Disney went to Florida in December of 1966 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new theme park. A week later he was dead. For more details see "Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando" (2003) Richard E. Foglesong. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0300098286/hip-20 ) In both cases I am reminded of Moses getting to see, but not enter, the promised land.] Some of the most significant and formative events of my 20s were the times I became disillusioned with ideas and institutions. In the early 1970s I became disillusioned with politics, after working on the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign, which he lost by a landslide to Nixon, and then finding out from Woodward and Bernsteins's "All the President's Men" (1975) that McGovern was the opponent Nixon wanted to run against. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671894412/hip-20 ) In 1976 I became disillusioned with the Walt Disney Company, by becoming one of their employees at Walt Disney World. That story I will tell later, but I do want to mention that on my first visit to the Magic Kingdom I was quite astonished at the political content of the Hall of Presidents attraction. The show, in a large, wide theater, began with what looked like a multiscreen slide presentation that stretched across five screens, covering 180 degrees, showing 100 color paintings of historic events, along with music and narration. The first event highlighted was the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. ( www.americanrevolution.com/WhiskeyRebellion.htm ) From the show script: Narrator: The first test was not long in coming. It occurred in George Washington's second term as president, an incident known as the Whiskey Rebellion. In colonial times, corn was an abundant crop but difficult to transport. And for convenience was often converted to distilled spirits. Since this important byproduct was shipped from state to state, the federal government saw fit to levy a tax upon it. But the people objected in principle, and before long their opposition had flared up in riots. Here was the first challenge to the federal authority. Governor Mifflin: The question remains whether the President has any legal right to use force. George Washington: As to the legality of it, Governor Mifflin, I have here an opinion from Justice Wilson advising that the courts of your state are unable to deal with the crisis through ordinary judicial proceedings. Under the law this would empower me to use the federal militia. Narrator: Fortunately, the rebellion ended without bloodshed. The mere size of the militia overawed all further opposition. Washington had shown his people that the government was prepared to ensure domestic tranquility when necessary. ( burnsland.com/hallofpresidents/script.html ) What surprised me was that rather obscure historic occasion -- when George Washington first led federal troops against American citizens -- was being trotted out as a great event in our nation's history. (Interestingly, this was also the first time our citizens were called "terrorists" by their government -- for harassing tax collectors.) Immediately afterward the show embraces the bloodbath of the Civil War as more evidence of increasing federal power, and that's a good thing. The slide show ends with a clip of film, revealing that we were watching underutilized 70mm projectors all along. Offered as the ultimate justification for all this federalism is a movie, spanning all 5 screens, of a Saturn 5 launching. Not a word is spoken, we are just left to draw our own conclusions. It seemed to me similar to the Fascists argument that we must form a bundle of sticks to be strong enough to whack our enemies. [This show has since ben "fixed" according to web sources: In June 1993, the program was closed for a major overhaul in program content. A new script, narrated by poet Maya Angelou focused more on matters of racial tension through the years than the original program had and was praised by some for being more enlightened about the negative aspects of American history. Others criticized it for being too politically correct. ( waltdatedworld.bravepages.com/id223.htm ) I suppose that Civil Rights make a better justification for Civil War than do feats of Civil Engineering.] This stint at Disney World was in the middle of a bicycle journey with my wife across America, and when the time came to quit our jobs and hit the road again, we next made our way to Kennedy Space Center, my first real visit. (The Apollo 15 launch had not included a tour.) Since this was 1976, the Saturn had stopped flying and the shuttle wasn't ready yet, so there wasn't much going on. In honor of the US Bicentennial, they'd set up some geodesic domes in a parking lot and invited representatives from industry in the present their visions of the future. I remember a lot of hydroponics, and later when the EPCOT theme park opened at Disney World it seemed like about the same stuff. After a small dose of this future boosterism we went on the KSC facility tour. I remember we were in the launch control room (not mission control, that's in Houston at JSC) and we looked out over the salt marshes at pad 39A, where the Apollo missions had blasted off. Our tour guide pointed out that there were giant metal vertical shutters on the windows. At the push of a button they all slammed shut, protecting the launch controllers from the rocket's blast. "Boy," said my wife, "America has the most expensive hobby ever!" While NASA was redesigning the shuttle to meet congress's repeated demands that it be cheaper to build even if it would later be more expensive to operate, The People were coming up with some pretty interesting ideas about space. Most notably Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill and his students figured out that we could build giant cities in earth orbit, also solar power satellites form about the cost of the Alaska pipeline. His first published work on the subject was in the magazine "CoEvolution Quarterly," published by Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Catalog" crowd. "CQ," which had also published Paul Erlich of "Population Bomb" fame, and covered the "limits to growth" waterfront, had an article in the Spring '76 issue by Peter Vajk called "Space Colonies, Ethics and People," which reran some of the earth simulations in "Limits to Growth" with the addition of space colonies, turning our closed system of planetary resources into an open system. ( www.l5news.org/L5news/L5news7605.pdf ) Apocalypse was averted. I can't find the original article on-line, but there is a follow-on as part of a book published by "CQ" in 1977 called "Space Colonies" which is now archived on-line by NASA! ( lifesci3.arc.nasa.gov/SpaceSettlement/CoEvolutionBook/LIFES.HTML#Limits%20to%20Growth-wronger%20than%20ever ) [Also, the first thing I ever got published, a letter to "CQ," is in the same archive under the title "Juvenile Space."] ( lifesci3.arc.nasa.gov/SpaceSettlement/CoEvolutionBook/DEBATE1.HTML#Juvenile%20space ) * * * * * * "If we can put a man on the moon, travel to Mars, examine the intricacies of DNA, shouldn't we be able to figure out how to get good teachers in hard-to-staff schools?" -- Governor Mark Warner, Commonwealth of Virginia, speaking at the 2004 National Forum on Education Policy, Orlando, FL "The clear logical writings of Von Mises, Hayek, Bastiat and other free market advocates convinced many people that politics was a useful tool in the fight to reverse the encroachment of socialism into our lives. The popular saying at the time -- 'If we can put a man on the moon, we can eliminate poverty'-- terrified those of us who realized the havoc unlimited social spending could cause." -- "Gathering in the Name of Freedom" by Kathryn Augustin, Hostess, Libertarian Party of Michigan Founding Convention ( www.mi.lp.org/history/25thann.htm ) I wish I could track down the reference, but it was pre-web; somewhere I read an "op ed" piece in a newspaper in the late 1970s that pointed out that NASA was the poster-child for activist government, that is, government out solving new problems. Every bureaucrat with a plan needs NASA to be there, serving as the prototypical example, "If we can put a man on the moon..." But it didn't all sink in. Finally in 1981 the shuttle showed up, and I had stars in my eyes again. My wife, three friends and I rented a motor home and drove from San Diego to Florida to see the first space shuttle launch. At the end of the ten day trip I had a better understanding of what is what like to be cooped up in a capsule. Our trip included space-related stops in Arizona, ( www.noao.edu/kpno ) New Mexico, ( www.spacefame.org ) Texas, ( www.jsc.nasa.gov ) Florida, ( www.ksc.nasa.gov ) North Carolina, ( www.outerbanks.com/wrightbrothers ) Virginia, ( www.larc.nasa.gov ) Washington, D.C., ( www.nasm.si.edu ) and Alabama, ( www.msfc.nasa.gov ) but looking back 23 years one of the most memorable events occurred on the second day out, at a little spot then called the Pima County Air Museum, which wasn't even open when we stumbled on it. ( www.aero.com/museums/pima/pima.htm ) You see, in preparation for the trip we had all re-read "The Right Stuff" (1979) by Tom Wolfe, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553381350/hip-20 ) and so we knew that the first people to reach outer space weren't astronauts but test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, in the later- canceled X-15 program, a vehicle which dropped from a larger airplane, flew to the edge of space and then landed under its own power. There on the Arizona desert, in an aircraft scrap yard that wasn't even on display, on the other side of a chain link fence, we found an X-15 fuselage. It looked so small. We videotaped it in the twilight. In 1983 I went to work for a company that traditionally had made capacitors, but was branching out into high-tech. Three small divisions had a telephone hold product for consumers, an experimental ceramics oven for the space shuttle, and a 3D real-time computer graphics system. I went to work for the graphics division, which had about 4 people. The space oven group had about 20. Then the CEO decided that the shuttle oven was a lost cause, because not enough customers in industry wanted to use it, and he dissolved that division. The graphics people moved into the space that the shuttle oven people had occupied. Later that year the CEO sent me to a local San Diego conference on how to sell to the government. Most of the day was devoted to selling to the Department of Defense (DoD), but there was one session on selling to NASA. Here I learned something very interesting: that NASA was seen by the aerospace community as a useful deflector of scrutiny for military work. One speaker said: "Why do work for NASA? We usually only build one or two of something, so you're not going to make money doing large scale manufacturing on the back end. But every now and then you have to let your guys out into the light. Give them a project they can talk about to their wife and kids. Let them design something you can put a model of it in your lobby." I had no desire to do military work at this point, so I was perfectly poised for my next disillusionment: with computer graphics. We were working on a system with potential applications in Computer Aided Design (CAD), entertainment, games, architecture, and education. After an exhaustive marketing research project, management decided the only viable near-term market for this box was military simulators. Suddenly I was doing military work after all. I also remember that 1983 was the year Reagan announced the space station (I was exuberant) and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), called "Star Wars" by the press, a potentially space-based missile defense (I was dismayed). The company eventually sold boxes to the military airccraft divisions of Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas, and the military avionics divisions of Hughes and IBM. The only outfit not working directly on better ways to kill people was Rockwell, who needed to simulates space shuttles. And so, in 1986, when I was choosing between which of GTI's customers to go to work for programming one of the boxes, it was obvious I should go to Rockwell, and work on the space station project; and so I was to begin the process by which I became disillusioned with the space program. The first weird thing about working at Rockwell was that it was where the shuttle orbiters were built, and they had their own "mission control" room for launches, which I was hoping to get to see, but two months before I was hired the Challenger blew up and the fleet was grounded. The whole 22-month period I worked there the fleet remained grounded. The second weird thing was that recently Rockwell had been "suspended" from selling stuff to the military due to incidents of time card fraud in Texas, and management was EXTREMELY OBSESSIVE about having us fill out time cards correctly. We had to attend mandatory training sessions. But nobody was concerned about what work we did, with what goals and milestones, or how fast, on what schedule, or how effective or efficient we were. That's because Rockwell sold our time to the government with a markup, and the longer we took, the more they made. (That's where "cost overruns" come from.) The third weird thing about working at Rockwell was that NASA had asked us to put together an impossible plan. Rockwell as trying to win a piece of the space station contract, and in our proposal to NASA we had to put together a plan based on a "reference configuration" that was modified and amended many times, but finally ended up being called "option CETF" which was a grab bag of payloads from the many NASA centers -- all of whom had powerful friends in congress - and as it happened the total mass and volume were both beyond the shuttles ability to carry to orbit. Some humorist with some pretty good cartooning skills sketched and posted a drawing of an overpacked shuttle held together with strapping like a busted suitcase, with the caption "WE CAN MANIFEST OPTION CETF" stoking our optimism. In other words, the competing contractors were being tested as to our ability to tolerate B.S., or what Mr. T. calls "jibber jabber." It reminded me of "goof gas." ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/CETF.jpg ) TO BE CONTINUED...
Follow-up to last month's e-Zine, "Six Degrees of Buddy Hackett":
  1. I meant to begin with this quote from "The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Volume 2" (2004) by Neal Stephenson: "The only cure for it is to become a merchant prince," said Vrej Esphahnian, as they were sailing out of the Golden Gate on a cold, clear morning. "And that is what we are working toward. Learn from the Armenians, Jack. We do not care for titles and we do not have armies nor castles. Noble folk can sneer at us all they like -- when their kingdoms have fallen into dust, we will buy their silks and jewels with a handful of beans." "That is well, unless pirates or princes take what you have so tediously acquired," Jack said. "No, you don't understand. Does a farmer measure his wealth in pails of milk? No, for pails spill, and milk spoils in a day. A farmer measures his wealth in cows. If he has cows, milk comes forth almost without effort." "What is the cow, in this similitude?" asked Moseh, who had come over to listen. "The cow is the web, or net-work of connexions, that Armenians have spun all the world round." Here Stephenson is delighting in drawing parallels in the 1600s to our modern high-tech webs and networks. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060523867/hip-20 )
  2. I also meant to work in this quote from "Excursions in Graph Theory" (1980) by Gary Haggard (math subscripts changed to C syntax due to lack of typesetting): DEFINITION 2. Let G be a graph with p vertices, v[1], v[2], ..., v[p]. The p x p matrix A = a[i][j] is an "adjacency matrix" for G if and only if for 1 <= i, j <= p we have 1 if (v[i], v[j]) is an element of edges of G a[i][j] = { 0 if (v[i], v[j]) is not an element of edges of G ... ...if A is an adjacency matrix for a graph G with vertices v[1], v[2], ... , v[p], then the (i,j-th) entry for A^n (the product of A with itself n times) is the number of walks in G of length n from v[i] to v[j]. I find this astonishing. And it completely over-solves the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg problem. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0891010408/hip-20 )
  3. I got email from Jeff Sale, SDSU, on this topic: After hearing you talk with Dave G. this past weekend about power laws and social networks, it occurred to me that you may not be aware of some ideas I've had for a long time about power laws in learning, related to some ideas behind self-organized criticality. ... If you have time, take a look at: www.banyantree.org/jsale/soc/ and: www.banyantree.org/jsale/soc/critlrn6b.html He finds some interesting patterns in how humans acquire skills.
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