Being Lucky

Here was an interesting post that I saw from a blog (that actually found me!…) from Andy Swan

It resonated with me because I’m actually really lucky at finding parking spaces lately.  Ask Stephanie and Monroe – they’ll tell you…

Or at least tell you how much I tell them that I’m lucky at finding parking spaces…

(Re)Focusing on What Matters…

For a long time, I’ve wanted an outlet to share what I’ve learned and help others out in the process.  I haven’t been very good at getting to the right answer (but, then again, when do we?…)  A great article by Penelope Trunk got me going (so, I should probably thank her for getting me “back in the game”…)

So, I’ve decided to start posting again with what I’m genuinely interested in.  I’ll see how that works – I may switch things around again in the future…

I dig science, math, and the logic of things.  But not everything is black and white (but there is still a very logical way of thinking about and dealing with this grayness…)

I’ve always been interested in learning what makes our world tick – physics is awesome, game theory is really cool about how it helps to understand how people interact with each other, and abstract computational systems are just really fascinating to me…

(you might be saying, “HUH?”, but stick with me…)

But what I really like is that what I know about these really technical fields actually explains a lot of what we see in the world – whether that’s in business, politics, or even in raising our kids.

I’ll probably write some things about technology – if I find it interesting, and I think you’ll enjoy what I have to say about it…

I’ll probably connect to some things in the news as I hear them.  Seeing today’s events from a different perspective is always interesting to me…

I may even recommend some really cool books that I”m reading, because I do dig books…

I have a wide variety of interests, but what I really connect with is how all of these things have interrelationships and all make (some) sense.  I LOVE to get to the core answer behind it all, which sometimes leads to counterintuitive things…

And I really believe that we can all live better lives – achieve more of what we want to do in life – make a real difference – if we know what REALLY drives things.  And learning these lessons that takes real understanding, applying some logic, and digging deeper than what may appear right in front of you.

And… most importantly – keeping an open mind and challenging your own beliefs.  People are funny that way – sticking to what they already know because it makes them feel better/safer not to change.  I, however, would rather know than not know, and if that means I had it wrong before, then so be it.

So – I’m willing to take the ride.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy taking the ride with me…

Being Recognized Means Benefiting Others First

Recently, at my company, we’ve started the process of going through a transition.  Our company has been around for over 30 years, pushing the bounds of technology and providing critical solutions to national security. 

However, as the transition takes place, there will be a number of people on our staff who will feel overwhelmed, partly because some struggle with having the right perspective.

We have a part of our company that strives to gain a deeper understanding.  They know things really, really, really well (admittedly, these are some of the smartest people I’ve ever had the honor to work with…).  However, they have a hard time describing what they know to others or even how to turn what they know into something that might be useful.

We have another part of our company that strives to develop new capabilities.  They focus on the people who are interested in what they are working on, and they turn their knowledge into beneficial products that can be easily understood and useful.

Of course, it’s always incredibly important to strive to know more or to create new innovations that do things that have never been done before.

But, for our efforts to have true impact, they need to be geared towards benefiting others.  While significant energy can be exerted on gaining new knowledge or demonstrating a new capability or invention, an equal amount of energy is needed to present these new insights into benefits for other people.  Otherwise, our initial efforts in gaining the new knowledge might ultimately be lost.

One such example is the comparison between the contributions of British chemist Sir Humphry Davy and those of American inventor Thomas Edison.

By connecting two charcoal sticks to powerful battery technology he invented, Davy demonstrated the capability of using electricity to generate light.  Davy had developed many other lamps, including candle-based safety lamps used by miners, but the demonstration of his powerful arc lamp to the Royal Society in 1809 was the first of its kind – a brand new innovation.

Thomas Edison, on the other hand, strove to make the light bulb practical, thus benefiting others.  Seventy years later after Davy’s demonstration, Edison took advantage of the rush to create practical light bulbs using a method called “incandescence”, which refers to light being emitted from a hot metal object due to its temperature.

As a result of thousands of attempts on Edison’s part, he created an incandescent light bulb that lasted for 40 hours and then later improved the design to last for over 1200 hours.

Now, by the electrical light bulbs that illuminate nearly every home and office in the world, we remember Edison.  In fact, many people think that Edison actually invented the electric light bulb itself, leaving Davy’s contributions, while significant, deep in our collective memories.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard in my occupation that people want to be recognized for their great ideas.  They sometimes ask how we’re going to recognize the scientist that comes up with the next $100 million idea for our company.  However, (even I sometimes fall into this trap myself…), what I tell my colleagues is that it doesn’t matter how great your idea is, it matters what you do with it.

And what you do with it needs to benefit others.  Other people need to understand why your innovative concept or capability will make their lives better.

Your work may explain something that others have never understood before.  So, not only should your work provide that answer, it needs to explain that answer in such a way that it’s clear to others.

One way to think about your efforts is to think of what you are providing, and ask:  What am I producing or what “product” am I creating that others will find useful?

If your goal is to gain understanding, you need to communicate that understanding to others.  The “product” is the understanding AND the communication of that understanding. 

If your goal is to provide a new capability, your need to present it in a way that is useful to others.  The “product” is the new capability AND communicating the way that others can use the new capability to benefit their lives.

In the end, when you benefit others, others will return the favor and recognize you for your contributions.  That’s how to make a lasting impact within the science and technology fields.

Persistence That Lit the World

You’d probably never think that we’d actively toss Thomas Edison aside, but over the past few years, the world has been taking steps that make it seem like we’re doing just that.

In March of this year, the European Commission voted to effectively phase out the incandescent light bulb by 2012.  This follows steps taken by the United States just over a year prior to ban them outright by 2014.

As our society grows, we invent new ways to light our homes and offices that use much less energy.  As it turns out, incandescent light bulbs, an invention dating back to the 1800s, take up to twice as much energy to use as more efficient halogen bulbs and up to three times more energy than compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs.

Of course, we’re not really throwing Thomas Edison aside, just his particular invention.  And further, we’re certainly not diminishing Edison’s contributions – there are important lasting lessons we can learn.

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, having 1,093 U.S. patents to his name.  Many of his patents described improvements to the main technologies of his day, including the telegraph, and burgeoning ones, such as electric motors and electric railways.

In addition, Edison created significant innovations such as the phonograph (the first device to record and reproduce sound), the kinetograph (an early form of the motion picture camera), the first commercially available fluoroscope (an X-ray imaging device), and systems for the distribution of electric power.

Of course, Edison’s most famous invention is his seminal improvement on the electric light bulb.

While others scientists invented the electric light bulb itself, Edison worked to make the light bulb practical.  According to the most prominent of Edison’s patent applications for his electric light bulb, the key was using “a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina contact wires”.  With this filament, an electric current passing through it would give off light, and the oxygenless environment inside the bulb would prevent the filament from burning, thereby making the bulb last longer.

Edison’s first successful test of his invention lasted 40 hours, and he soon improved his design to last for over 1200 hours.  In comparison, bulbs designed by others could last only 12 hours or so – a 100x improvement.

However, we shouldn’t credit some stroke of genius for enabling Edison’s light bulb to be invented.  While Edison’s carbon filament was the key to his invention, Edison’s persistence was the key to his success.

It is said that Edison tried thousands of different kinds of filaments before coming up with his final design. He tried and failed, and tried and failed, and tried and failed. And while a single filament design may have failed, he never considered himself a failure; he just learned another new way not to make a light bulb.

Obviously, Edison created his inventions over 100 years ago, so we’ve certainly progressed since Edison’s time, replacing his inventions with the new innovations of today. 

The phonograph has been replaced with the iPod.  The fluoroscope has been replaced by magnetic resonance imagers or MRIs.  The kinetograph has now evolved into the handheld digital camcorder.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised that Edison’s incandescent light bulb has finally been replaced with better technologies.

However, Edison’s influence has been unquestionably dramatic, and the lessons of his success are enduring.  Had Edison not persisted in his quest to build a better light bulb, the practicality of illuminating every corner of our world with electric light could not have been realized.

When we turn on a light switch, the lights go on.  While this seems so simple to us today, we can thank Thomas Edison and his persistence for making it real.

Blaze a New Trail

In our fast paced world, it seems that every new technology gets overturned every few years or so.

Just look at social networking – it used to be MySpace, then Facebook, now it’s Twitter (I’m sure by the time I publish this column, Twitter will even be passé…)

But there has (at least for the time being) been a stable anchor in our technology world – Google.  Everybody knows that you enter what you’re searching for, and Google provides relevant webpages that give you the information you want.  It’s almost as if it’s been around forever (at least in technology years…), and it’s even become a verb – people can actually “google” something…

But now, there is a new knowledge engine on the block, called Wolfram|Alpha (www.wolframalpha.com).  It’s similar to and different from Google in what you can do with it.

You can still enter a search term like “weather new york city”, and Wolfram|Alpha will provide you information.  However, while Google will provide you a list of links to go seek the information you want, Wolfram|Alpha actually calculates new and more immediately relevant information for you – on the fly.

You’ll get the temperature, conditions, relative humidity, and wind speed, but Wolfram|Alpha will also generate week histories and forecasts for the temperature and conditions, as well as provide a historic temperature graph for today’s date for the last 40 years.  It will even provide the closest local weather station and compare that with other locations in the area.

It is indeed a new kind of knowledge engine, and an ambitious undertaking.  According to the website, “Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.”

But none of this is surprising, coming from its creator, Stephen Wolfram.

Born in 1959, Wolfram studied at Eton, Oxford, and Caltech.  His first scientific paper, called “Hadronic Electrons?”, was accepted for publication when he was just 15, and he graduated for Caltech with a PhD in theoretical physics at 20. 

His work had such a profound impact on the physics community (one of his widely-cited papers on heavy quark production was published at the age of 18) that he joined the Caltech faculty immediately upon receiving his doctoral degree.  A year later, Wolfram became the youngest recipient of the MacArthur Prize Fellowship.

While at Caltech, he began the creation of SMP, the first modern computer algebra system, which was commercially released in 1981.  He spent the next several years in academia, first at Caltech, then at Princeton, and finally at the University of Illinois.  However, his scientific pursuits did not follow the standard track for a physicist – he set out on his own path toward finding the fundamental origins of complexity.

After publishing numerous classic papers on simple computational systems known as cellular automata, he went on to found his own company called Wolfram Research.

There he created Mathematica, probably the most significant achievement in technical computing to date (I even used an early version of Mathematica to perform a little of my thesis work…).  Rather than having different toolkits for different technical jobs, such as computer algebra systems, graphing calculators, or 3D visualization, Mathematica creates a unified computational framework for technical development.  It has changed the way scientists and technologists perform their work.

Through the course of his development of Mathematica, learning more and more about how computation relates to the complexity we see in our world, Wolfram embarked upon his most ambitious project – publication of his treatise A New Kind of Science. 

Starting from examination of very simple computer experiments, Wolfram explains in NKS how simple computational programs can generate incredible complexity, debunking the primary scientific belief that only complex models can create such complexity.

Wolfram goes on, as described in the book’s summary, to use his approach “to tackle a remarkable array of fundamental problems in science, from the origins of apparent randomness in physical systems, to the development of complexity in biology, the ultimate scope and limitations of mathematics, the possibility of a truly fundamental theory of physics, the interplay between free will and determinism, and the character of intelligence in the universe.”

Ambitious indeed.

Of course, Wolfram hasn’t stopped there.  He created an application called WolframTones, which uses computational algorithms to generate original music stylings that can be downloaded to cellphone ringtones.  And now, he’s created Wolfram|Alpha, a computational knowledge engine intended to complement (if not rival) Google in its impact.

As we witness the next technological advances, we’ll continue to be amazed by what we enable computers to do.  With Wolfram|Alpha and his other monumental achievements, Stephen Wolfram is blazing a new trail in defining what is possible.

Challenge the Current Wisdom and Change the World

Recently, our family took a trip to the Griffith Observatory, the historic public astronomy destination with its beautiful views of the Hollywood sign, the Pacific Ocean, and the downtown skyline of Los Angeles.

Being a resident of Southern California, I feel really blessed to have such a wonderful science attraction in my own backyard.  And with the special significance of this year and our trip to Griffith, I am even now more appreciative.

This year, the Observatory is celebrating the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s pioneering observations of the heavens with his telescope.

In 1609, Galileo created one of the most powerful telescopes of the day, and upon completing his device, he turned it to the skies, observing celestial features such as the Moon and the planet Jupiter.  Within the first few days of the following year, he observed, for the first time, four of the moons circling Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. 

Prior to that time, outside of our own Moon, no person had ever seen celestial bodies orbiting planets, so viewing these satellites with such clarity was quite an achievement in and of itself.

Yet, the most powerful impact of Galileo’s observations would be what he chose to present about the moons’ movements.

Galileo, in publishing his observations, “concluded, and decided unhesitatingly, that there are three stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury around the Sun” and “that there are not only three, but four, erratic sidereal bodies performing their revolutions around Jupiter.”

By concluding that Jupiter’s moon orbited around the planet and further that they were similar to how Venus and Mercury orbited around the Sun, Galileo was siding with the theories of Nicolaus Copernicus.  And in Galileo’s times, this was a direct challenge to the conventional wisdom.

In 1543, Copernicus published work describing his heliocentric model, where planets revolved around the Sun, opposing the current thinking of the time that all celestial bodies, including the Sun, revolved around the Earth.

Of course, we know today that the Earth revolves around the Sun, so this certainly doesn’t come as a shocking statement to us.  But in the 17th century, this was heresy.  This challenged the view that most philosophers and astronomers held – that the Earth was the center of the universe.

Even with over sixty years having passed since Copernicus presented his theories, Galileo was met with bitter opposition.  In fact, some of his fellow scientists eventually reported him to the Roman Inquisition in 1615.

While cleared by the Roman Catholic Church at the time, the Church denounced the heliocentric model as “false and contrary to Scripture”.  However, this was not the end of the public attack upon Galileo and his scientific work.

When Galileo later defended his views in his work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Views, in 1632, he was tried for heresy by the Inquisition, forced to recant his public writings, and placed under house arrest by the Pope.

While many people, including other scientists and the leaders of the Catholic Church, didn’t want Galileo’s views to be believed, Galileo was right in the end.  His observations provided evidence for a model that better explains what is true about our universe.

He had the courage to present his views publicly, and he pushed human society forward.  He chose to challenge the views of the dominant political force of the day, the Catholic Church – not for the sake of challenging it, but for the purpose of presenting the truth.

We can progress as a people when individuals stand up and choose to force us all to recognize the truth.  Galileo, with his simple observations of the satellites of Jupiter, profoundly forced that recognition. 

If everyone blindly agreed with everyone else, we wouldn’t change or move forward.  We wouldn’t progress or become better or improve our understanding. 

It takes individuals to present certain countering views, making us think about what is right and what is the truth.  These individuals are the ones that ultimately make the positive difference in our human history.

Four hundred years later, we now celebrate Galileo and his creation of the device that changed our understanding of the universe. 

But in addition, we should also celebrate Galileo’s willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom and change the world.

How To Create A Powerful First Impression

You’ve heard it a hundred (if not a thousand) times: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… So, is this going to be another one of those articles?

Well, no, but I’ll have to admit, there is truth about the whole first impression thing…

It turns out, psychologically, that peoples’ impressions of things – people, food, whatever – are truly most influenced by their first exposure to them. These first exposures set the initial state by which we compare any future exposures.

So, while first impressions can be overcome, they are very important since they carry the most weight.

And if you’re giving a presentation or trying to make a sale, you’ve only got one chance to get off on the right foot. So controlling the first impression is very important.

Knowing this, here are several things that you can do to create a powerful first impression.

Be Prompt

People’s time is important to them, so don’t start off your first interaction with these people by wasting it. If you have an appointment set for a particular time, arrive at that time. Now you can arrive early, but if you do arrive early, it’s even better to hang out for a little bit, and arrive on time.

If you schedule a time to speak with someone at, say, 3 PM, you’ve made a mini-contract with that person to set time aside at that very time.

Coming early is better than coming late, but arriving on time is absolutely the best. Being prompt means that you keep your word and honor your commitments, and that goes a long way to making a great first impression.

You want to communicate that you are valuing the other person, and you do that by valuing their time. Being prompt is critical in making good first impressions, so manage your time (and their time) wisely.

Be Positive and Smile

In general, people like being around people who are positive. So, if you want someone to have a good impression of you, it’s in your best interest to have them think you are a positive person.

That means smiling and having a positive attitude or take on items that come up in conversation. This doesn’t mean that you can’t present a critical assessment of something that is mentioned, but don’t be negative about it.

Again, people make quick judgments based upon things based upon their experiences. If you’ve know someone for a long time and you know that they are a positive person, that one time that you hear them complain or be negative won’t really change your opinion.

However, if that one time was the only experience by which to judge them, you’d jump to the conclusion that overall he or she is a negative person. Don’t let this generalization happen to you — be positive and smile in your first meeting.

Be Courteous and Attentive, and Be a Good Listener

People also love when others treat them as the center of attention. So if you want someone to think highly of you, be a good listener. Without saying a word, you are sending a message that the other person is important — important enough to listen to what they are saying.

Back in my days in working with radar technology (sorry to go all “geek” on you…), we would recognize that radars had two modes of operation, “transmit” and “receive”. As you might guess, “transmit” is when the radar is sending energy out, and “receive” is when the radar is “listening” for energy that’s coming back.

Well, I knew and worked with people that were always on “transmit”. They couldn’t stop sending out what they thought, and would never go on “receive”. It drove people (and me) absolutely nuts, because the impression was that they didn’t care what I thought — they didn’t bother to listen to me.

In your first meeting with people, don’t be on “transmit”, be on “receive”. Listening is one of the most important things to do when meeting people for the first time. In fact, you’d be surprised how much more highly someone would think of you the LESS you speak.

Be Careful with Humor

You might be a funny person, but be careful with using humor in your first interaction with people. It’s best to be professional — you can figure out how to inject humor into your conversations later.

Humor is always good to break down barriers and make people feel more comfortable with you, but you can’t be sure what are things that the other person might find humorous until you get to know them.

Trying to make light of something without knowing the other person (their background, what they’ve been going through, etc.) can backfire if you’re not careful, which isn’t what you want in making a first impression.

Again, humor can work well in subsequent meetings with people, but in your first one, focus on making a great first impression. And you can do that by being careful with using humor right away.

Use the Name of the Other Person Frequently

It’s been said that the single greatest word that another person likes to hear is their own name.

It does work some sort of magic when you use a person’s name with them in conversation. It conveys an impression of an intimate working relationship, like you’ve been working with them for months or years.

It also conveys an impression that you care enough about the other person to call them by their name. You can have the same conversation with someone and never use their name. However, it would have a colder, more distant feeling to it than if you injected their name into the conversation a few times.

Of course, don’t overdo it, but using their name brings the other person into the conversation more deeply. It really works, and it can enhance the power of your first impressions greatly.

What We Can Learn From Stephen Hawking (Besides the Mysteries of Black Holes)

Stephen Hawking has many things in common with some of the great scientists of our time, his understanding of the intricacies of the universe rivaling that of Albert Einstein.

When Stephen Hawking was born, he came into our world exactly 300 years after Galileo Galilei left.  Two great scientists, connected by their birthdays, separated by three centuries.

Yet, the most remarkable aspect of Stephen Hawking’s contributions to science is his ability to communicate his ideas to others, especially those outside the sciences.

And of course, this is made even more remarkable given what he has personally had to overcome.

Stephen Hawking received his Ph.D. in cosmology from Cambridge University, but almost upon arriving there, he started developing the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  This is a type of neurological disease that causes loss of neuromuscular control and, in many cases, paralysis.

Hawking is now bound to a wheelchair, is almost entirely paralyzed, and can only speak through the aid of a computer-generated voice synthesizer.  Hawking uses his cheek to painstakingly enter words into the communications device, so constructing complete sentences is a long process.

While people who develop the stages of ALS are given about two to five years of life expectancy, Hawking has survived with the disease for well over 40 years.

Yet despite these physical challenges, he achieved great scientific success, being selected the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (the same position held by Issac Newton 300 years earlier) and being named a Fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s oldest and most prestigious scientific association.

However, Hawking’s most indelible contribution to science would be the publication of his best-selling book A Brief History Of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestsellers list a record-breaking 237 weeks.

In his book, Hawking explains the aspects of cosmology, including black holes, the Big Bang, and superstring theory, to those not skilled in the sciences.  His entire goal for the book was to communicate his knowledge to others who didn’t have his background in physics, and probably would not understand complex mathematics by showing equation after equation after equation.

In fact, as the story goes, Hawking was warned by his editor that for every equation he included in the book, his readership would be cut in half.  For that reason, he only included Einstein’s E=mc2 relationship, and went further to make the subject accessible by including many illustrations throughout the book.

While Stephen Hawking can teach us a great deal about black holes and gravitational singularities, he teaches us much more about something else that makes him a great scientist.  The fact is that information in his mind would be useless to anyone else if he wasn’t able, somehow, to communicate it effectively.

Society progresses when the innovators and the discoverers share with others what their ideas are and what they’ve discovered.

Becoming successful in science and technology takes a desire to communicate what you know to others, so that they can share and build on these discoveries. 

The greatest impact of your work will be when more people know and rely upon your insights.  However, they won’t be able to do that unless they understand what you know.  And for them to know and to understand, you must make the choice to explain what you know and communicate your understanding effectively.

Just imagine the loss to our world had Stephen Hawking not developed his magnificent ability to communicate what he knows.  Certainly many explanations could have been given that his physical ailments have locked away his understanding and prevented the world from accessing his knowledge.

However, he chose to overcome these limitations and developed his extraordinary means of communicating his knowledge and understanding.

And the world, in fact the universe, is a better place for it.

It’s Always Your Fault (or At Least In Your Hands…)

This may be a harsh way to start off this column, but it is a way to get your attention about the principle behind the statement.

Technically, things aren’t always your fault.  There are circumstances, reasons, environmental variables, and people’s reactions that play into every situation you face.

However, what is always true is that you are involved in the situation.  And there is always something you can do about it.

But before I go deeper into this, let me describe a situation I was in during graduate school…

I was taking a class called “Oceans and Atmospheres” (or something like that) and, I’ll admit, I didn’t really groove on this subject.  It was all about inversion layers, radiative transfer, and relative humidity – for me, not what drives me.

(Go figure that I’d go on to work for a company whose primary specialty was in oceans, but that’s another story…)

So, I found myself having a tough time “getting it” – I had received a C+ on the midterm (although I’m not sure I really deserved such a low grade…).  I could have just given in and said to myself that I’ll never really learn this well, and lived with a lower grade.  However, I decided to work with some of my friends in the class and work through the problems together.

Now, one day I received my grade on a homework assignment, and I knew that I had solved the problem correctly (we had to prove that the given statement was true, or something like that…).  Yet, the professor marked it wrong, and appended the comment, “Yeah, if I really believe it”, to the problem.

What?!  Did the professor really write that?  I mean – he was really going after my work for no good reason.  I was just astounded…

So, I went up to the professor after class, and asked him if he could explain the comment and why I didn’t get credit for the correct answer.  He just looked at it, laughed, and said something like, “I suppose I shouldn’t have said that.  Here, I’ll mark it right.”

Now, this got under my skin even more.  How could he be so cavalier with the grades he was handing out?  Plus, he wrote this condescending comment on my work, yet he just dismissed as a quirk in his personality that wasn’t important…

It turned out that he and my graduate advisor were on the same faculty and there were, let us say, tensions.  Based on the environment and the reactions, I could tell that I was being held to a different standard that other members of the class, based on nothing of my own doing.

Yet, instead of giving in to the situation, accepting a lower course grade, and explaining it all to myself through excuses and rationalizations, I chose to do everything I could, within my own control, to create a different outcome.  I wanted to make sure that I got the absolute best grade possible, given the circumstances.

So, first, I buckled down and chose to study this material like I studied no subject before in my life.  I know that this professor had given an A+ to some students on the midterm (to some of his “favorites”), so there was a possibility, if I knew the material down cold, that I could get a similar grade.

Next, I went to the graduate student advisor in the department to let her know the situation, just to make her aware.  I didn’t expect that she would do anything about it, but I wanted to let someone know of the circumstances.  I had never done anything like this before, so I was a little nervous.  But it was a step that I felt I needed to take to do everything I could about the situation.

As the final approached, I had probably learned more about oceans and atmospheres in school that at any other time, and I really think I knew the final material better than anyone else. 

And the test bore that out – I had aced the final, receiving that A+ that he probably never wanted to hand out to me, because he had no other choice.  I knew the material backwards and forwards and I blew the curve of his test.  He put me in a situation that I didn’t enjoy, and I turned the tables, took control of what I could, and put him into a corner – he had to give me his best grade on the final.

It turned out that I got a B+ in the class as a result – a fair score given my poor grade on the midterm – and I didn’t have to see the student advisor after that. 

I did what I needed to do, and I took complete responsibility for the outcome that came to me.  As a result, I got the grade that I wanted, given the circumstances.

So, where does this all lead?  It shows how, even when the situation seems bad and things are stacked against you, there is always something that you can do to change the outcome in your favor.  Always.

Things may not turn out as well as you might like them to turn out (I did only get a B+ in my course…).  However, there’s always something that you can do to make the situation better.  Always!…

Successful scientists don’t fret about the situations they’re in, and they certainly don’t get down on themselves, thinking that the world is against them.  They overcome their circumstances and put their best foot forward. 

So, to become as successful as you can be, take complete responsibility for the situation you’re in, and do everything you can to perform the best you possibly can. 

What “Go Beyond The Envelope” Is All About

I thought I’d start off this column with my goal – my expressed desire for what I want to achieve through putting my thoughts into words. 

The title of my column is “Go Beyond The Envelope”.  As you might know, the definition of “pushing the envelope” is to go beyond established limits, so this is where the title originates from.  

The phrase became popularized by the author Tom Wolfe in his book (which eventually became a hit movie) The Right Stuff, about the early aircraft test pilots and pioneers of the space program in the 1950s and 1960s.  On pushing the envelope, Wolfe wrote:

“One of the phrases that kept running through the conversation was ‘pushing the outside of the envelope’… [That] seemed to be the great challenge and satisfaction of flight test.” 

And this becomes the main thrust of my column.  In the areas of science and technology, but also life in general, I believe that we must continue to push the envelope.  Joy can truly be achieved when we strive to do what others seem to think is impossible.

I also believe that we become better scientists, better developers of technology, and a better society when we choose to do more than what we thought we could do only yesterday.   

We push what is possible and ourselves at the same time.

And with that, we shouldn’t merely be satisfied with pushing the envelope; we should strive to go beyond it.

The envelope is the currently established limit of what is possible.  In the ultimate, the laws of physics define what this envelope is.  However, we learn more and more about what the laws of physics are, encapsulated in such theories, for example, as string theory and loop quantum gravity, so the envelope keeps moving. 

However, in many areas of our lives, including those of science and technology, it is people who define what the envelope is.  Sometimes, we even encase ourselves in an envelope of our own making.  And to achieve the things that we want in life, we need to break through these invisible boundaries we or others set up for ourselves.

I believe that success is about going beyond the envelope, testing the limits of what everyone else thinks can be done, and showing that more can be known, more can be accomplished, more can be understood by stretching our sense of the possible. 

What I want to do is help people in my favorite discipline of science and technology really succeed.

I’ve spent nearly my entire life living and breathing science.  It’s what drove me in school, and I can’t seem to get my mind off of it.  Every time I go to a book store, I always gravitate to the science section.   

There, I learn about Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Richard Feynman – some of the greats that defined a new sense of what the envelope really was.

And sometimes, in thinking about science and technology, we scientists and developers of technology would rather just bury our heads in the problem we’re trying to solve and tell everyone else to just leave us alone.  Sometimes the problem and the effort to solve it is the joy of living. 

However, I have found that true joy comes not only when you’ve solved a problem, but you’ve solved one that no one has ever solved before – when the envelope has been pushed and new understanding comes – to you and to others – as a result.

And the people in science and technology – these true problem solvers – by choosing to go beyond the perceived limits of what is possible can make our world a better place. 

So I hope to encourage those in the sciences not only to push the envelope, but go beyond the envelope and dare to do great things.

As I end this first column, I’ll mention one last thing.  I’m not perfect and I’m learning all the time about what works and what doesn’t.  A good scientist tries lots of things, sees what works, and figures out what doesn’t.   

As I write this column, I’ll probably be making many more mistakes along the way, and I’ll probably share those with you, too, so that you may learn from them as well.

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and you’ll find these columns helpful and interesting. 

I want to write stories that inspire scientists to succeed.  I want to share what I’ve learned (and fumbled into) to help others in becoming successful themselves.

And to go beyond the envelope.