18 July 2012

Pygmies and Giants

There are two secrets of success, as Thomas Edison put it, and they are due to two things which makes one successful: inspiration and perspiration.

Having a great idea or seeing that there might be a better way to do something is a form of inspiration.  It is delivered to you when you see something that isn't working just quite right or when you have a new or novel idea of something that can be made or thought about in a different way.  In the realm of creation these things are called 'inventions' and they can transform how we live our lives and usually for the better.  If the vision of Steve Jobs was to have a computer useful to the common man, the vision of Bill Gates was to have a computer on everyone's desk running a Microsoft operating system.  Both men had views to what their goals were and what they wished to achieve and both succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, yet both of them brought problems to their users which were new technical problems but prone to the foibles of nature and human nature.  Neither of these men were successful before they got to work on their respective visions, both are archetypes of someone with a great idea starting with nothing: Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs did it the old fashioned way out of their garage, Bill Gates was dumpster diving in Harvard when he got the idea for an operating system for a machine that hadn't been built and cadged time on a PDP-11's off hours to start work on it and it was for a BASIC interpreter and compiler not an operating system.  In many ways both had outside help, in that their original dreams couldn't be promulgated by them, and getting to the point where they could actually launch companies meant having to adjust their dreams and vision at the every day level while still keeping their eyes on the far horizon.

These men did, indeed, have an environment that encouraged learning but  there is no way to predict what they would do.  Having the environment is no guarantee of actual accomplishment or of something being invented.  To say that it is demeans those who can see farther and says to them that they are not special in their vision and their work and that they are just a product of their culture.  As President Obama puts it (Source: Fox News 15 JUL 2012):

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back,” the president said. “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” he said. “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Inspiration does not come just because there is are teachers and mentors: they are there to help give you the basics, not to give you the end product.  Working hard at something is no guarantee of success, either, as you must have some skill and capability to do what it is you are doing and then demonstrate that in the marketplace to let others value your individual contribution.  This is the essence of Liberty: that you will prosper not by the amount of work you put into something but by how skillful you are and then accept the valuation of others as to the worth of what you have done.  It takes lots of hard work to dig a ditch by hand, and you get immediate results, as well.  Putting together a computer or BASIC interpreter from parts (in the first case) or from scratch using a system that is only emulating your end-goal system is something else again.  This both require skill and knowledge as background, yes, but the application of such skills is hard work with no guarantee of success at the end.  The ditch digger can get a ditch at the end of their labors, something of immense value for irrigation and sanitation,  but the background necessary for that is a modicum of examining slopes and run-off patterns and then digging the ditch.  Not so lucky are those starting with only the knowledge of how to lay out a circuit diagram or to code in one operating system to emulate another operating system to then run software on that target operating system.  And yet neither the ditch, the computer or BASIC compiler are foregone conclusions because you have teachers, mentors, roads and bridges.  Having government is no guarantee of success and it is neither a creator nor does more than offer protection for an environment that can encourage learning.

The government research for the Internet is, itself, based on an existing paradigm started for HAM and emergency radio operators in Hawaii for addressing information to go through a series of point stations to get to an end destination for delivery.  It was called ALOHAnet and it was made to meet a service demand of government, yes, but no one knew if it could even be done.  It utilized a system of addressing packets of information from point to point.  From there it goes to the East Coast of the US and is put together not bring you the World Wide Web but to do something profoundly prosaic: timeshare mainframes.  Back at the dawn of the computer age, when IBM thought there might only ever need to be 10 computers for the entire planet, it was found that these accounting and automated booking computers could be re-purposed to do other calculations and quickly.  You could begin to model tough mathematical questions on, say, how the blast wave of an atomic bomb propagated or how materials reacted to combustion in a jet engine.  Important stuff and since the US government had a need to protect the Nation, it handed out boatloads of cash to large universities to get these new mainframe computers.  Everyone wanted one, of course, and since the US government (contrary to the beliefs of President Obama, Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke) is not made of cash, a way had to be found to share time (divide computing time up) so that researchers from one university could run their software on the computer of another university through sharing time on these few machines (which were numbering in the 100s).

Now because computers came from different manufacturers with different standards for just about everything, writing code for each machine was a process that was machine dependent: you had to know the system, its operating environment and software packages before you could even begin to write the code to run your software.  Some standardization took place to get things down to a couple of languages (FORTRAN and COBOL), but as each machine had its own way of doing these languages, software had to be tweaked to get it to run on different machines.  Yet at the most basic level there had to be a way to get these machines which had their own way of looking at a network (mostly of dumb terminals and other peripherals) so that they could communicate between each other to allow for coding to be passed from one machine to another (destination machine) via a point to point switched network we know as the telephone system.  This required Modulators/Demodulators to convert data to sound and then sound to data via tonal modulation, with error correction involved.  But even that doesn't solve the problem of keeping these systems in communication with each other.  The idea of giving each machine a machine neutral address in a much larger address space where machines would know the address of other machines wasn't started by ARPA but was funded by them which would lead to the creation of ARPAnet.  The idea for point to point message forwarding with the known number of hops between points comes from ALOHAnet.  Yet ARPAnet isn't the Internet at that point, either, because the computers are now taking up valuable and costly time storing and forwarding messages and moving them around the network.

How to get from that to machine neutral storage and forwarding then goes over to Stanford University in the 1980's and to Leonard Bosack, Sandy Lerner and Erich Drafahl who had this wickedly clever idea of creating hardware as network switches to store and forward ARPAnet traffic and to allow communications between local networks run by computers (mostly mainframes but independent small computing networks were also cropping up) and offload the data transfer problems from local systems to dedicated systems that did just that and tracked all the numbered addresses on the network as well.  Their idea was to make not just a software address space neutral networking device but a hardware neutral one as well that would treat each machine equally via managing address spaces.  They formed a little company in their living room, basement, garage, house and then started realizing that they and all their friends were spending their time hand-making these things called 'routers' and needed a bigger place and better financing to do it.  They went to a Venture Capitalist who helped them with money and expertise on standing up a business and the company they created was called: Cisco.

The US government didn't create Cisco.  Indeed for nearly two decades this problem of getting a better way for computers to communicate with each other was a vexing one to the entire computing community.  While necessity is the mother of invention, she has no set delivery schedule.

ARPAnet was already seeing heavy use but not for its intended reason (and it wasn't designed to survive a nuclear war, either, and any capability it has in that regard belong to the original concept of the emergency ALOHAnet system of packet-based radio) which was the very first digital 'killer app': e-mail.  With a flat network address space of equal peers and hooking systems to share that space, internal e-mail which had been something done for specific systems, could be sent from system to system using neutral data packaging so that peers (scientists by and large) could exchange data with each other directly and nearly instantaneously.  This eliminated having to ask your supervisor, having to draft a letter, having to get the letter vetted by your department, sending it and maybe, if you were lucky, getting a phone call in a week or two, or a return message in that same period of time.  And as computers stored the e-mail they could be read whenever the end-user got to it to read it, which is known as asynchronous messaging.  Thus you could communicate from, say, Boston, MA to Sydney, Australia and not play phone-tag, not get messages mis-delivered by hand written notes, not go through laborious letter writing, but, instead, get a reply to a direct question or comment in about a day to something you had put together with little bureaucratic overhead.  The sheer genius is that every node on a network, every e-mail address, had no secretaries, editors, nor upper management between you and the person you were contacting: it was a peer-based equal system.  The driver to get to the network of networks via routers was being driven not by scarce computer time but by long communication times by researchers who found that the most valuable commodity wasn't computer time but THEIR TIME in communicating.

ARPA failed to get what it wanted with ARPAnet: a neutral time-sharing system amongst computers.

It wildly succeeded in doing something that no one had planned for and proved to be far more valuable because of what it allowed: e-mail.

Remember, now, this is for something that President Obama is trying to claim as a government invention.  The paradigm of 'we all invented this by having government and your individual success isn't yours' doesn't fit into the actual course of events.  This is the view from the Pygmies, that no one is taller, no one is better, no one deserves anything through inspiration and that your Liberty is, basically, held hostage by everyone else and you should be thankful that you are allowed to use it.

This does not only not describe how things are created but they do not explain the process of scientific discovery, either.  In this realm something else goes on and it is the process of expanding horizons, describing what you see so that others can find that same set of horizons, as well.  As James Burke put it with a series title The Day The Universe Changed, there are profound insights into the universe that sweep aside problems in the old system or undermine the old system of knowledge by demonstrating something that was thought not to be true to be true or to otherwise change the basis of understanding so profoundly that new areas of inquiry are opened up in places thought to be old and decided upon for generations.  As an example, for a long, long time in human history light was thought to be white from the sun, or a bit of yellow white, but basically just one color.  You could get other colors by using filters or burning materials in a hot flame, but each light was individual to that phenomena and you only got just that light and no other.  Light was a unit and could not be broken down into anything other than what it was.  Rainbows were a gift from the divine or other powers, their physical manifestation just for one event or place.  A curious phenomena of casting glass is that with a relatively clear glass ball, you could set it on a white piece of paper, have sunlight go through it and it would not only invert the image but at the extremes of the glass ball you would get a rainbow, a spectrum of light.  That was only coming from one source, the sun, but when tried with other lights they, too, demonstrated this phenomena.  Light went from being a unitary thing to being made up of a spectrum.  Even more interesting is that when a material gets hot enough to give off light, it gives off bands of light in that spectrum.  Similarly sunlight has bands of light missing from its spectrum and if you can match up those bands to what made them you could find out what the sun was missing or, even better, what was absorbing those bands and identify those elements remotely. 

This was a fundamental shift in our understanding of the nature of light yet it took no government to find it, no authority to create it, no allowance given by community for someone to work on it.  Finding out what, exactly, this meant, this light as many colors, would take generations, in fact, of researchers, scientists, cranks, and assorted individuals working on it to keep on investigating just what light actually was and how it worked.  Nor was necessity involved, as the old way of doing things could easily have gone on for quite some time before anyone actually got to looking at the nature of light.

Discovery of new and novel ideas and ways of looking at things are not done by governments and governments, by our knowledge of human nature applied to the social condition, can only provide space for such discoveries to happen.  That this is the case was its own set of discoveries starting with the Ancients and then tracing through to period of Westphalia and seeking to understand the differences between Moral Law, Civil Law and Natural Law and what the interplay is between them.  Simple factual observations that Nations come from marriage  had to be pieced into the larger Law of Nations outlook, and that took from the 14th century to the 18th century to finally get a firm grasp of just what is a Nation, what is a government, what is moral law, what is natural law, what is civil law and how these are all part of a continuity with separate domains and powers in them.  Even with a sole Creator, that Creator put together a multi-part creation that we were to exist in and understand, and as we are a reflection of our Creator (made in his image) so, too is all the rest of what we have around us a reflection of that Creation and image.  The simple fact that it is around us and must be understood and dealt with is something that anyone who uses reason can assemble in their thoughts.  Government is not the pinnacle of Creation and, instead, indicates that man is a being of Nature and flawed by being Natural and imperfect.

The simple statement that governments are instituted amongst men shows the order of our creation after the Nation, and that is to self-govern and seek government amongst those around us who also self-govern.  The State comes from such self-government and cooperative government amongst families near us and is the last part of the puzzle, not the first.  To invert that, to put government first, then posits that government creates man, period.  And yet that is self-evident as not being the case.

Yet this is the foundation of the Pygmy view that we are nothing without government instead of correctly positing that government does not exist without self-governing individuals who form a Nation via marriage and working with their fellow man at a local level.

In the realm of science, technology and, indeed, all other learning, there is the alternate paradigm of how achievement works.  It is as breathtaking as it is simple to understand and requires only that we have self-government and a space to practice Freedom and Liberty without government interference so long as we harm no others directly by it:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675
English mathematician & physicist (1642 - 1727)

Once you have a new horizon opened to you by the hard work of others who have seen further than any before them and that beckon to you to join in their joy of discovery, then you must work hard to clamber onto their shoulders, stand on your own, and dare to see over the heads of the Pygmies.  Even when you better the lives of all around you with this new vision, be it in invention or science or natural law as applied to man, you will be vilified by those who do not accept that success requires more than just hard work and is outside the grasp of any government to create.

Government can only absorb wealth and make a space for it to be created.

It is not the creator, holder nor guarantor of success and insight and the most we can seek is to have it keep its fingers out of our success to steal it from us as that is the essence of our Liberty.  Our wealth is our skill, time, and hard work put into our lives to make them better, and the theft only starts with the rich and ends by taking milk from babies and impoverishing all when government is seen as other than a mere creation of man to restrain man's worst traits.  In that light God only asks that we give 10% to the poor and needy which is humble in its proposal.  Governments are not that humble and when they ask for more you should ask just why such government is better than the Creator or man's generosity towards his fellow man to sustain him with an open hand.  Government is the creation of Pygmies who see it as a means to level mankind so that man can never succeed, and do so through tyranny and despotism.  Civilization the creation of Giants.  We all start out as the former, but we are all endowed to be the latter if we but try and work at our natural talents and accept that we are not good in all things and must then find out where our talents naturally are.  Find what you are good at and work at it and you, too, shall be a Giant amongst men.

And then you will get complaints... lots of complaints... by those who do not dare the same because they prefer limited horizons to limitless ones.

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