Is Anything Obvious

Jupiter Rising on FlickrI took this picture while on the beach in Florida, after dinner at one of our company events. Some of the people nearby were watching me try to setup my camera on a mini-tripod, and I heard several comments like “I love the reflection on the waves” and “look how the moon is backlighting the clouds”, but nobody guessed what I was actually trying to capture. If you look below and to the right of the moon, there’s a white dot that looks like a bad pixel – that’s Jupiter! While all the focus was on our planet, our moon, our ocean and our atmosphere, most people simply ignored the biggest planet in our solar system.

Truth be told, I’m no expert on obvious. My daughter was old enough to realize this for herself, when I pointed out to her that Kanga and Roo (in the Disney Channel’s Winnie the Pooh), were kangaroos – the connection had only then occurred to me. Sad as that fact may be, I think I do understand certain obvious things that many of the people I read about, hear about and periodically encounter seem to miss. For instance, I think it’s obvious that we should continue to explore the universe beyond our atmosphere. Despite the benefits that the space program delivered to the rest of our economy, the recent news from NASA is all about how they are depositing the fleet of Space Shuttles at three famous museums and how it may be a decade until we return to space in a NASA-build vehicle. Sorry, that’s just wrong. I was still in single-digits when President Kennedy spurred this nation to the challenge of putting a man on the moon, and he simultaneously spurred an interest in math and science in me. Today, we lament the lack of students and graduates in this country in those fields, but we ignore the connection between what we want and what we do.

As I look back on the various things that have been in flux and transition during my lifetime, I feel like I may be on the event horizon of a black hole. When I was a child, everything and everybody seemed to be looking forward and outward. Today, we seem to be retreating to smaller and smaller interests, more narrowly defined goals and a view of the world as if the scientific facts we’ve uncorked during the previous 50 years are still a mystery. We have communication technology that actually lets us share and discuss ideas with people around the world on a continuous basis, but we have governments from cities all the way up to countries considering how to block those communication channels. Political candidates seem woefully unconcerned about even the smallest of larger issues, and unbelievably compulsive about the most trivial things. The people who occupy leadership roles in this country follow the narrow interests of their financial supporters as if to step off that path would be to wander into a minefield. We look backward to try to find ways to fight the battles we have already lost, and we seem willing to ignore the future battles I think we are uniquely capable of winning. My pet example is manufacturing. So many people talk about why we are losing jobs, how we need to stop losing jobs, and how horrible losing these jobs has been for our economy and our future. If we remain a capitalistic economy, there is simply no way we are going to bring most of today’s manufacturing jobs back from China. In fact, there’s no way China can stop those jobs from moving to places with even cheaper labor forces. The simple truth is nobody wants to pay more money for the stuff they buy; but what about the next generation of manufacturing jobs?

Why aren’t our politicians challenging and supporting businesses in this country to leapfrog today’s manufacturing process and create the next generation of good paying jobs in this country. Why aren’t we setting unattainable goals and then supporting the people who will achieve them in their efforts. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” why do we continue to ignore this aspect of his legacy. We have an educational system that remains largely unchanged since I was a student, and the best our government seems to be able to do is make us spend more time testing children and then arguing over whose funds should be cut (schools or teachers) when children fail those tests. We have created an environment where stepping outside the box would be financial suicide and where success from trying a new technique will go unnoticed or perhaps punished.

Over 10 years ago, I donated three used computers to a middle school teacher in our town who taught special needs students. He had complained that these kids were uncomfortable working in the crowded environment of the Media Center and they were missing out on a valuable resource. The teacher spent his own money on a printer and a network switch, and on a Saturday morning, we configured a network in his classroom. The results, according to the teacher were amazing. Three months later, an administrator stuck a Board of Education inventory tag on each device and moved them all into the Media Center.

Einstein also said, perhaps when he was frustrated that people didn’t understand the first quote, that: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.

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