Archive for December 20, 2011

Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation.

Posted: December 20, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Economy, Education

The mouse was conceived by the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, developed by Xerox PARC, and made marketable by Apple.

The mouse was conceived by the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, developed by Xerox PARC, and made marketable by Apple.

In late 1979, a twenty-four-year-old entrepreneur paid a visit to a research center in Silicon Valley called Xerox PARC. He was the co-founder of a small computer startup down the road, in Cupertino. His name was Steve Jobs.

Xerox PARC was the innovation arm of the Xerox Corporation. It was, and remains, on Coyote Hill Road, in Palo Alto, nestled in the foothills on the edge of town, in a long, low concrete building, with enormous terraces looking out over the jewels of Silicon Valley. To the northwest was Stanford University’s Hoover Tower. To the north was Hewlett-Packard’s sprawling campus. All around were scores of the other chip designers, software firms, venture capitalists, and hardware-makers. A visitor to PARC, taking in that view, could easily imagine that it was the computer world’s castle, lording over the valley below—and, at the time, this wasn’t far from the truth. In 1970, Xerox had assembled the world’s greatest computer engineers and programmers, and for the next ten years they had an unparalleled run of innovation and invention. If you were obsessed with the future in the seventies, you were obsessed with Xerox PARC—which was why the young Steve Jobs had driven to Coyote Hill Road.

Apple was already one of the hottest tech firms in the country. Everyone in the Valley wanted a piece of it. So Jobs proposed a deal: he would allow Xerox to buy a hundred thousand shares of his company for a million dollars—its highly anticipated I.P.O. was just a year away—if PARC would “open its kimono.” A lot of haggling ensued. Jobs was the fox, after all, and PARC was the henhouse. What would he be allowed to see? What wouldn’t he be allowed to see? Some at PARC thought that the whole idea was lunacy, but, in the end, Xerox went ahead with it. One PARC scientist recalls Jobs as “rambunctious”—a fresh-cheeked, caffeinated version of today’s austere digital emperor. He was given a couple of tours, and he ended up standing in front of a Xerox Alto, PARC’s prized personal computer.

An engineer named Larry Tesler conducted the demonstration. He moved the cursor across the screen with the aid of a “mouse.” Directing a conventional computer, in those days, meant typing in a command on the keyboard. Tesler just clicked on one of the icons on the screen. He opened and closed “windows,” deftly moving from one task to another. He wrote on an elegant word-processing program, and exchanged e-mails with other people at PARC, on the world’s first Ethernet network. Jobs had come with one of his software engineers, Bill Atkinson, and Atkinson moved in as close as he could, his nose almost touching the screen. “Jobs was pacing around the room, acting up the whole time,” Tesler recalled. “He was very excited. Then, when he began seeing the things I could do onscreen, he watched for about a minute and started jumping around the room, shouting, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything with this? This is the greatest thing. This is revolutionary!’ ”

Xerox began selling a successor to the Alto in 1981. It was slow and underpowered—and Xerox ultimately withdrew from personal computers altogether. Jobs, meanwhile, raced back to Apple, and demanded that the team working on the company’s next generation of personal computers change course. He wanted menus on the screen. He wanted windows. He wanted a mouse. The result was the Macintosh, perhaps the most famous product in the history of Silicon Valley.

“If Xerox had known what it had and had taken advantage of its real opportunities,” Jobs said, years later, “it could have been as big as I.B.M. plus Microsoft plus Xerox combined—and the largest high-technology company in the world.”

This is the legend of Xerox PARC. Jobs is the Biblical Jacob and Xerox is Esau, squandering his birthright for a pittance. In the past thirty years, the legend has been vindicated by history. Xerox, once the darling of the American high-technology community, slipped from its former dominance. Apple is now ascendant, and the demonstration in that room in Palo Alto has come to symbolize the vision and ruthlessness that separate true innovators from also-rans. As with all legends, however, the truth is a bit more complicated.

After Jobs returned from PARC, he met with a man named Dean Hovey, who was one of the founders of the industrial-design firm that would become known as IDEO. “Jobs went to Xerox PARC on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and I saw him on the Friday afternoon,” Hovey recalled. “I had a series of ideas that I wanted to bounce off him, and I barely got two words out of my mouth when he said, ‘No, no, no, you’ve got to do a mouse.’ I was, like, ‘What’s a mouse?’ I didn’t have a clue. So he explains it, and he says, ‘You know, [the Xerox mouse] is a mouse that cost three hundred dollars to build and it breaks within two weeks. Here’s your design spec: Our mouse needs to be manufacturable for less than fifteen bucks. It needs to not fail for a couple of years, and I want to be able to use it on Formica and my bluejeans.’ From that meeting, I went to Walgreens, which is still there, at the corner of Grant and El Camino in Mountain View, and I wandered around and bought all the underarm deodorants that I could find, because they had that ball in them. I bought a butter dish. That was the beginnings of the mouse.”

I spoke with Hovey in a ramshackle building in downtown Palo Alto, where his firm had started out. He had asked the current tenant if he could borrow his old office for the morning, just for the fun of telling the story of the Apple mouse in the place where it was invented. The room was the size of someone’s bedroom. It looked as if it had last been painted in the Coolidge Administration. Hovey, who is lean and healthy in a Northern California yoga-and-yogurt sort of way, sat uncomfortably at a rickety desk in a corner of the room. “Our first machine shop was literally out on the roof,” he said, pointing out the window to a little narrow strip of rooftop, covered in green outdoor carpeting. “We didn’t tell the planning commission. We went and got that clear corrugated stuff and put it across the top for a roof. We got out through the window.”

He had brought a big plastic bag full of the artifacts of that moment: diagrams scribbled on lined paper, dozens of differently sized plastic mouse shells, a spool of guitar wire, a tiny set of wheels from a toy train set, and the metal lid from a jar of Ralph’s preserves. He turned the lid over. It was filled with a waxlike substance, the middle of which had a round indentation, in the shape of a small ball. “It’s epoxy casting resin,” he said. “You pour it, and then I put Vaseline on a smooth steel ball, and set it in the resin, and it hardens around it.” He tucked the steel ball underneath the lid and rolled it around the tabletop. “It’s a kind of mouse.”

The hard part was that the roller ball needed to be connected to the housing of the mouse, so that it didn’t fall out, and so that it could transmit information about its movements to the cursor on the screen. But if the friction created by those connections was greater than the friction between the tabletop and the roller ball, the mouse would skip. And the more the mouse was used the more dust it would pick up off the tabletop, and the more it would skip. The Xerox PARC mouse was an elaborate affair, with an array of ball bearings supporting the roller ball. But there was too much friction on the top of the ball, and it couldn’t deal with dust and grime.

At first, Hovey set to work with various arrangements of ball bearings, but nothing quite worked. “This was the ‘aha’ moment,” Hovey said, placing his fingers loosely around the sides of the ball, so that they barely touched its surface. “So the ball’s sitting here. And it rolls. I attribute that not to the table but to the oldness of the building. The floor’s not level. So I started playing with it, and that’s when I realized: I want it to roll. I don’t want it to be supported by all kinds of ball bearings. I want to just barely touch it.”

The trick was to connect the ball to the rest of the mouse at the two points where there was the least friction—right where his fingertips had been, dead center on either side of the ball. “If it’s right at midpoint, there’s no force causing it to rotate. So it rolls.”

Hovey estimated their consulting fee at thirty-five dollars an hour; the whole project cost perhaps a hundred thousand dollars. “I originally pitched Apple on doing this mostly for royalties, as opposed to a consulting job,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m thinking fifty cents apiece,’ because I was thinking that they’d sell fifty thousand, maybe a hundred thousand of them.” He burst out laughing, because of how far off his estimates ended up being. “Steve’s pretty savvy. He said no. Maybe if I’d asked for a nickel, I would have been fine.”

Here is the first complicating fact about the Jobs visit. In the legend of Xerox PARC, Jobs stole the personal computer from Xerox. But the striking thing about Jobs’s instructions to Hovey is that he didn’t want to reproduce what he saw at PARC. “You know, there were disputes around the number of buttons—three buttons, two buttons, one-button mouse,” Hovey went on. “The mouse at Xerox had three buttons. But we came around to the fact that learning to mouse is a feat in and of itself, and to make it as simple as possible, with just one button, was pretty important.”

So was what Jobs took from Xerox the idea of the mouse? Not quite, because Xerox never owned the idea of the mouse. The PARC researchers got it from the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, at Stanford Research Institute, fifteen minutes away on the other side of the university campus. Engelbart dreamed up the idea of moving the cursor around the screen with a stand-alone mechanical “animal” back in the mid- nineteen-sixties. His mouse was a bulky, rectangular affair, with what looked like steel roller-skate wheels. If you lined up Engelbart’s mouse, Xerox’s mouse, and Apple’s mouse, you would not see the serial reproduction of an object. You would see the evolution of a concept.

The same is true of the graphical user interface that so captured Jobs’s imagination. Xerox PARC’s innovation had been to replace the traditional computer command line with onscreen icons. But when you clicked on an icon you got a pop-up menu: this was the intermediary between the user’s intention and the computer’s response. Jobs’s software team took the graphical interface a giant step further. It emphasized “direct manipulation.” If you wanted to make a window bigger, you just pulled on its corner and made it bigger; if you wanted to move a window across the screen, you just grabbed it and moved it. The Apple designers also invented the menu bar, the pull-down menu, and the trash can—all features that radically simplified the original Xerox PARC idea.

The difference between direct and indirect manipulation—between three buttons and one button, three hundred dollars and fifteen dollars, and a roller ball supported by ball bearings and a free-rolling ball—is not trivial. It is the difference between something intended for experts, which is what Xerox PARC had in mind, and something that’s appropriate for a mass audience, which is what Apple had in mind. PARC was building a personal computer. Apple wanted to build a popular computer.

In a recent study, “The Culture of Military Innovation,” the military scholar Dima Adamsky makes a similar argument about the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. R.M.A. refers to the way armies have transformed themselves with the tools of the digital age—such as precision-guided missiles, surveillance drones, and real-time command, control, and communications technologies—and Adamsky begins with the simple observation that it is impossible to determine who invented R.M.A. The first people to imagine how digital technology would transform warfare were a cadre of senior military intellectuals in the Soviet Union, during the nineteen-seventies. The first country to come up with these high-tech systems was the United States. And the first country to use them was Israel, in its 1982 clash with the Syrian Air Force in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a battle commonly referred to as “the Bekaa Valley turkey shoot.” Israel coördinated all the major innovations of R.M.A. in a manner so devastating that it destroyed nineteen surface-to-air batteries and eighty-seven Syrian aircraft while losing only a handful of its own planes.

That’s three revolutions, not one, and Adamsky’s point is that each of these strands is necessarily distinct, drawing on separate skills and circumstances. The Soviets had a strong, centralized military bureaucracy, with a long tradition of theoretical analysis. It made sense that they were the first to understand the military implications of new information systems. But they didn’t do anything with it, because centralized military bureaucracies with strong intellectual traditions aren’t very good at connecting word and deed.

The United States, by contrast, has a decentralized, bottom-up entrepreneurial culture, which has historically had a strong orientation toward technological solutions. The military’s close ties to the country’ high-tech community made it unsurprising that the U.S. would be the first to invent precision-guidance and next-generation command-and-control communications. But those assets also meant that Soviet-style systemic analysis wasn’t going to be a priority. As for the Israelis, their military culture grew out of a background of resource constraint and constant threat. In response, they became brilliantly improvisational and creative. But, as Adamsky points out, a military built around urgent, short-term “fire extinguishing” is not going to be distinguished by reflective theory. No one stole the revolution. Each party viewed the problem from a different perspective, and carved off a different piece of the puzzle.

In the history of the mouse, Engelbart was the Soviet Union. He was the visionary, who saw the mouse before anyone else did. But visionaries are limited by their visions. “Engelbart’s self-defined mission was not to produce a product, or even a prototype; it was an open-ended search for knowledge,” Matthew Hiltzik writes, in “Dealers of Lightning” (1999), his wonderful history of Xerox PARC. “Consequently, no project in his lab ever seemed to come to an end.” Xerox PARC was the United States: it was a place where things got made. “Xerox created this perfect environment,” recalled Bob Metcalfe, who worked there through much of the nineteen-seventies, before leaving to found the networking company 3Com. “There wasn’t any hierarchy. We built out our own tools. When we needed to publish papers, we built a printer. When we needed to edit the papers, we built a computer. When we needed to connect computers, we figured out how to connect them. We had big budgets. Unlike many of our brethren, we didn’t have to teach. We could just research. It was heaven.”

But heaven is not a good place to commercialize a product. “We built a computer and it was a beautiful thing,” Metcalfe went on. “We developed our computer language, our own display, our own language. It was a gold-plated product. But it cost sixteen thousand dollars, and it needed to cost three thousand dollars.” For an actual product, you need threat and constraint—and the improvisation and creativity necessary to turn a gold-plated three-hundred-dollar mouse into something that works on Formica and costs fifteen dollars. Apple was Israel.

Xerox couldn’t have been I.B.M. and Microsoft combined, in other words. “You can be one of the most successful makers of enterprise technology products the world has ever known, but that doesn’t mean your instincts will carry over to the consumer market,” the tech writer Harry McCracken recently wrote. “They’re really different, and few companies have ever been successful in both.” He was talking about the decision by the networking giant Cisco System, this spring, to shut down its Flip camera business, at a cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars. But he could just as easily have been talking about the Xerox of forty years ago, which was one of the most successful makers of enterprise technology the world has ever known. The fair question is whether Xerox, through its research arm in Palo Alto, found a better way to be Xerox—and the answer is that it did, although that story doesn’t get told nearly as often.

One of the people at Xerox PARC when Steve Jobs visited was an optical engineer named Gary Starkweather. He is a solid and irrepressibly cheerful man, with large, practical hands and the engineer’s gift of pretending that what is impossibly difficult is actually pretty easy, once you shave off a bit here, and remember some of your high-school calculus, and realize that the thing that you thought should go in left to right should actually go in right to left. Once, before the palatial Coyote Hill Road building was constructed, a group that Starkweather had to be connected to was moved to another building, across the Foothill Expressway, half a mile away. There was no way to run a cable under the highway. So Starkweather fired a laser through the air between the two buildings, an improvised communications system that meant that, if you were driving down the Foothill Expressway on a foggy night and happened to look up, you might see a mysterious red beam streaking across the sky. When a motorist drove into the median ditch, “we had to turn it down,” Starkweather recalled, with a mischievous smile.

Lasers were Starkweather’s specialty. He started at Xerox’s East Coast research facility in Webster, New York, outside Rochester. Xerox built machines that scanned a printed page of type using a photographic lens, and then printed a duplicate. Starkweather’s idea was to skip the first step—to run a document from a computer directly into a photocopier, by means of a laser, and turn the Xerox machine into a printer. It was a radical idea. The printer, since Gutenberg, had been limited to the function of re-creation: if you wanted to print a specific image or letter, you had to have a physical character or mark corresponding to that image or letter. What Starkweather wanted to do was take the array of bits and bytes, ones and zeros that constitute digital images, and transfer them straight into the guts of a copier. That meant, at least in theory, that he could print anything.

“One morning, I woke up and I thought, Why don’t we just print something out directly?” Starkweather said. “But when I flew that past my boss he thought it was the most brain-dead idea he had ever heard. He basically told me to find something else to do. The feeling was that lasers were too expensive. They didn’t work that well. Nobody wants to do this, computers aren’t powerful enough. And I guess, in my naïveté, I kept thinking, He’s just not right—there’s something about this I really like. It got to be a frustrating situation. He and I came to loggerheads over the thing, about late 1969, early 1970. I was running my experiments in the back room behind a black curtain. I played with them when I could. He threatened to lay off my people if I didn’t stop. I was having to make a decision: do I abandon this, or do I try and go up the ladder with it?”

Then Starkweather heard that Xerox was opening a research center in Palo Alto, three thousand miles away from its New York headquarters. He went to a senior vice-president of Xerox, threatening to leave for I.B.M. if he didn’t get a transfer. In January of 1971, his wish was granted, and, within ten months, he had a prototype up and running.

Starkweather is retired now, and lives in a gated community just north of Orlando, Florida. When we spoke, he was sitting at a picnic table, inside a screened-in porch in his back yard. Behind him, golfers whirred by in carts. He was wearing white chinos and a shiny black short-sleeved shirt, decorated with fluorescent images of vintage hot rods. He had brought out two large plastic bins filled with the artifacts of his research, and he spread the contents on the table: a metal octagonal disk, sketches on lab paper, a black plastic laser housing that served as the innards for one of his printers.

“There was still a tremendous amount of opposition from the Webster group, who saw no future in computer printing,” he went on. “They said, ‘I.B.M. is doing that. Why do we need to do that?’ and so forth. Also, there were two or three competing projects, which I guess I have the luxury of calling ridiculous. One group had fifty people and another had twenty. I had two.” Starkweather picked up a picture of one of his in-house competitors, something called an “optical carriage printer.” It was the size of one of those modular Italian kitchen units that you see advertised in fancy design magazines. “It was an unbelievable device,” he said, with a rueful chuckle. “It had a ten-inch drum, which turned at five thousand r.p.m., like a super washing machine. It had characters printed on its surface. I think they only ever sold ten of them. The problem was that it was spinning so fast that the drum would blow out and the characters would fly off. And there was only this one lady in Troy, New York, who knew how to put the characters on so that they would stay.

“So we finally decided to have what I called a fly-off. There was a full page of text—where some of them were non-serif characters, Helvetica, stuff like that—and then a page of graph paper with grid lines, and pages with pictures and some other complex stuff—and everybody had to print all six pages. Well, once we decided on those six pages, I knew I’d won, because I knew there wasn’t anything I couldn’t print. Are you kidding? If you can translate it into bits, I can print it. Some of these other machines had to go through hoops just to print a curve. A week after the fly-off, they folded those other projects. I was the only game in town.” The project turned into the Xerox 9700, the first high-speed, cut-paper laser printer in the world.

In one sense, the Starkweather story is of a piece with the Steve Jobs visit. It is an example of the imaginative poverty of Xerox management. Starkweather had to hide his laser behind a curtain. He had to fight for his transfer to PARC. He had to endure the indignity of the fly-off, and even then Xerox management remained skeptical. The founder of PARC, Jack Goldman, had to bring in a team from Rochester for a personal demonstration. After that, Starkweather and Goldman had an idea for getting the laser printer to market quickly: graft a laser onto a Xerox copier called the 7000. The 7000 was an older model, and Xerox had lots of 7000s sitting around that had just come off lease. Goldman even had a customer ready: the Lawrence Livermore laboratory was prepared to buy a whole slate of the machines. Xerox said no. Then Starkweather wanted to make what he called a photo-typesetter, which produced camera-ready copy right on your desk. Xerox said no. “I wanted to work on higher-performance scanners,” Starkweather continued. “In other words, what if we print something other than documents? For example, I made a high-resolution scanner and you could print on glass plates.” He rummaged in one of the boxes on the picnic table and came out with a sheet of glass, roughly six inches square, on which a photograph of a child’s face appeared. The same idea, he said, could have been used to make “masks” for the semiconductor industry—the densely patterned screens used to etch the designs on computer chips. “No one would ever follow through, because Xerox said, ‘Now you’re in Intel’s market, what are you doing that for?’ They just could not seem to see that they were in the information business. This”—he lifted up the plate with the little girl’s face on it—“is a copy. It’s just not a copy of an office document.” But he got nowhere. “Xerox had been infested by a bunch of spreadsheet experts who thought you could decide every product based on metrics. Unfortunately, creativity wasn’t on a metric.”

A few days after that afternoon in his back yard, however, Starkweather e-mailed an addendum to his discussion of his experiences at PARC. “Despite all the hassles and risks that happened in getting the laser printer going, in retrospect the journey was that much more exciting,” he wrote. “Often difficulties are just opportunities in disguise.” Perhaps he felt that he had painted too negative a picture of his time at Xerox, or suffered a pang of guilt about what it must have been like to be one of those Xerox executives on the other side of the table. The truth is that Starkweather was a difficult employee. It went hand in hand with what made him such an extraordinary innovator. When his boss told him to quit working on lasers, he continued in secret. He was disruptive and stubborn and independent-minded—and he had a thousand ideas, and sorting out the good ideas from the bad wasn’t always easy. Should Xerox have put out a special order of laser printers for Lawrence Livermore, based on the old 7000 copier? In “Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer” (1988)—a book dedicated to the idea that Xerox was run by the blind—Douglas Smith and Robert Alexander admit that the proposal was hopelessly impractical: “The scanty Livermore proposal could not justify the investment required to start a laser printing business. . . . How and where would Xerox manufacture the laser printers? Who would sell and service them? Who would buy them and why?” Starkweather, and his compatriots at Xerox PARC, weren’t the source of disciplined strategic insights. They were wild geysers of creative energy.

The psychologist Dean Simonton argues that this fecundity is often at the heart of what distinguishes the truly gifted. The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn’t necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering number of insights, ideas, theories, random observations, and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great. “Quality,” Simonton writes, is “a probabilistic function of quantity.”

Simonton’s point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. “The more successes there are,” he says, “the more failures there are as well”—meaning that the person who had far more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too. This is why managing the creative process is so difficult. The making of the classic Rolling Stones album “Exile on Main Street” was an ordeal, Keith Richards writes in his new memoir, because the band had too many ideas. It had to fight from under an avalanche of mediocrity: “Head in the Toilet Blues,” “Leather Jackets,” “Windmill,” “I Was Just a Country Boy,” “Bent Green Needles,” “Labour Pains,” and “Pommes de Terre”—the last of which Richards explains with the apologetic, “Well, we were in France at the time.”

At one point, Richards quotes a friend, Jim Dickinson, remembering the origins of the song “Brown Sugar”:
I watched Mick write the lyrics. . . . He wrote it down as fast as he could move his hand. I’d never seen anything like it. He had one of those yellow legal pads, and he’d write a verse a page, just write a verse and then turn the page, and when he had three pages filled, they started to cut it. It was amazing.

Richards goes on to marvel, “It’s unbelievable how prolific he was.” Then he writes, “Sometimes you’d wonder how to turn the fucking tap off. The odd times he would come out with so many lyrics, you’re crowding the airwaves, boy.” Richards clearly saw himself as the creative steward of the Rolling Stones (only in a rock-and-roll band, by the way, can someone like Keith Richards perceive himself as the responsible one), and he came to understand that one of the hardest and most crucial parts of his job was to “turn the fucking tap off,” to rein in Mick Jagger’s incredible creative energy.

The more Starkweather talked, the more apparent it became that his entire career had been a version of this problem. Someone was always trying to turn his tap off. But someone had to turn his tap off: the interests of the innovator aren’t perfectly aligned with the interests of the corporation. Starkweather saw ideas on their own merits. Xerox was a multinational corporation, with shareholders, a huge sales force, and a vast corporate customer base, and it needed to consider every new idea within the context of what it already had.

Xerox’s managers didn’t always make the right decisions when they said no to Starkweather. But he got to PARC, didn’t he? And Xerox, to its great credit, had a PARC—a place where, a continent away from the top managers, an engineer could sit and dream, and get every purchase order approved, and fire a laser across the Foothill Expressway if he was so inclined. Yes, he had to pit his laser printer against lesser ideas in the contest. But he won the contest. And, the instant he did, Xerox cancelled the competing projects and gave him the green light.

“I flew out there and gave a presentation to them on what I was looking at,” Starkweather said of his first visit to PARC. “They really liked it, because at the time they were building a personal computer, and they were beside themselves figuring out how they were going to get whatever was on the screen onto a sheet of paper. And when I showed them how I was going to put prints on a sheet of paper it was a marriage made in heaven.” The reason Xerox invented the laser printer, in other words, is that it invented the personal computer. Without the big idea, it would never have seen the value of the small idea. If you consider innovation to be efficient and ideas precious, that is a tragedy: you give the crown jewels away to Steve Jobs, and all you’re left with is a printer. But in the real, messy world of creativity, giving away the thing you don’t really understand for the thing that you do is an inevitable tradeoff.

“When you have a bunch of smart people with a broad enough charter, you will always get something good out of it,” Nathan Myhrvold, formerly a senior executive at Microsoft, argues. “It’s one of the best investments you could possibly make—but only if you chose to value it in terms of successes. If you chose to evaluate it in terms of how many times you failed, or times you could have succeeded and didn’t, then you are bound to be unhappy. Innovation is an unruly thing. There will be some ideas that don’t get caught in your cup. But that’s not what the game is about. The game is what you catch, not what you spill.”

In the nineteen-nineties, Myhrvold created a research laboratory at Microsoft modelled in part on what Xerox had done in Palo Alto in the nineteen-seventies, because he considered PARC a triumph, not a failure. “Xerox did research outside their business model, and when you do that you should not be surprised that you have a hard time dealing with it—any more than if some bright guy at Pfizer wrote a word processor. Good luck to Pfizer getting into the word-processing business. Meanwhile, the thing that they invented that was similar to their own business—a really big machine that spit paper out—they made a lot of money on it.” And so they did. Gary Starkweather’s laser printer made billions for Xerox. It paid for every other single project at Xerox PARC, many times over.

In 1988, Starkweather got a call from the head of one of Xerox’s competitors, trying to lure him away. It was someone whom he had met years ago. “The decision was painful,” he said. “I was a year from being a twenty-five-year veteran of the company. I mean, I’d done enough for Xerox that unless I burned the building down they would never fire me. But that wasn’t the issue. It’s about having ideas that are constantly squashed. So I said, ‘Enough of this,’ and I left.”

He had a good many years at his new company, he said. It was an extraordinarily creative place. He was part of decision-making at the highest level. “Every employee from technician to manager was hot for the new, exciting stuff,” he went on. “So, as far as buzz and daily environment, it was far and away the most fun I’ve ever had.” But it wasn’t perfect. “I remember I called in the head marketing guy and I said, ‘I want you to give me all the information you can come up with on when people buy one of our products—what software do they buy, what business are they in—so I can see the model of how people are using the machines.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I have no idea about that.’ ” Where was the rigor? Then Starkweather had a scheme for hooking up a high-resolution display to one of his new company’s computers. “I got it running and brought it into management and said, ‘Why don’t we show this at the tech expo in San Francisco? You’ll be able to rule the world.’ They said, ‘I don’t know. We don’t have room for it.’ It was that sort of thing. It was like me saying I’ve discovered a gold mine and you saying we can’t afford a shovel.”

He shrugged a little wearily. It was ever thus. The innovator says go. The company says stop—and maybe the only lesson of the legend of Xerox PARC is that what happened there happens, in one way or another, everywhere. By the way, the man who hired Gary Starkweather away to the company that couldn’t afford a shovel? His name was Steve Jobs. ♦

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/16/110516fa_fact_gladwell#ixzz1h89ytcIS

NASA: Two Earth-Size Planets Are Discovered

Posted: December 20, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Education, Philosophy, Science

We are like ants running around on an apple, speculating what the world is like. We don’t have enough perspective to even make good guesses–Mike in Chicago

University of Toulouse, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An illustration of two Earth-sized planets orbiting a Sun-like star.

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In what amounts to a kind of holiday gift to the cosmos, astronomers from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft announced Tuesday that they had discovered a pair of planets the size of Earth orbiting a distant star. The new planets, one about as big as Earth and the other slightly smaller than Venus, are the smallest yet found beyond the solar system.

Astronomers said the discovery showed that Kepler could indeed find planets as small as our own and was an encouraging sign that planet hunters would someday succeed in the goal of finding Earth-like abodes in the heavens.

Since the first Jupiter-size exoplanets, as they are known, were discovered nearly 15 years ago, astronomers have been chipping away at the sky, finding smaller and smaller planets.

“We are finally there,” said David Charbonneau, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was a member of the team that made the observations, led by his colleague Francois Fressin. The team reported its results in an online news conference Tuesday and in a paper being published in the journal Nature.

Dr. Fressin said, “This demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets exist around other stars and that we can detect them.”

The announcement doubled the number of known Earth-size planets in the galaxy to four from two — Earth and Venus.

The next major goal in the planetary hunt, astronomers say, is to find an Earth-size planet in the so-called Goldilocks zone of a star, where conditions are temperate for water and thus life. We are not there yet.

The two new planets, Kepler 20e and Kepler 20f, are far outside the Goldilocks zone — so close to the star, termed Kepler 20, that one of them is roasting at up to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit — and thus unlivable.

Although the milestone of an Earth-size planet had long been anticipated, astronomers on and off the Kepler team were jubilant. Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, another Kepler team member, called the new result “a watershed moment in human history.”

Debra Fischer, a planet hunter from Yale, who was not part of the team, said, “This technological feat is incredibly important because it means that the detection of Earth-size planets at larger distances is technically possible.”

Kepler 20e, the closer and hotter planet, is also the smaller — about 6,900 miles across, or slightly smaller than Venus — and it resides about 5 million miles from its star. The more distant planet, Kepler 20f, also broiling at around 800 degrees, is 10 million miles out from its star. It is 8,200 miles in diameter, about the size of Earth. The two planets are presumed to be rocky orbs that formed in the outskirts of their planetary system and then migrated inward.

Their star, which is slightly smaller and cooler than the Sun, is about 950 light years away from us. Kepler had previously found three larger Neptune-like planets around it, so the new observations bring the total to five so far. All the planets are well inside where Mercury would be in our own solar system, presenting a bounteous system of unlivable planets.

“This is Venus and Earth in a five-planet system,” Dr. Fischer said in an e-mail. “There’s no place like home, and the Kepler data are starting to uncover some mighty familiar architectures.”

Kepler detects planets by watching for blinks when they move in front of their stars. Since it was launched in 2009, it has found 2,326 potential planets, 207 that would be Earth-size, if confirmed as the two reported Tuesday have been.

Confirmation of a planet, however, requires additional observations, usually of its star’s wobbles as it gets tugged by the planet going around. The gravitational pull of planets as small as the Earth on their parent star is too small to measure with the current spectrographs. And so the astronomers resorted to a statistical method called Blender, developed by Dr. Fressin and Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, in which millions of computer simulations of background stars try to mimic the Kepler signal. They concluded that Kepler 20e was 3,400 times more likely to be a planet than background noise, while the odds in favor Kepler 20f being real were 1,370 to 1.

Confirmed (or validated, as the Kepler team likes to say), they join the other planets already known to orbit the star. In a surprise for astronomers who thought they knew how planetary systems form, the orbits of the new planets are sandwiched between the orbits of the older, bigger, gassier ones, a configuration that does not occur in our own solar system.

In an e-mail, Dr. Charbonneau noted: “In the solar system, rocky worlds and gas giants don’t mingle. But in the Kepler 20 system they apparently do.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/science/space/nasas-kepler-spacecraft-discovers-2-earth-size-planets.html?_r=1&hp

The accidental universe: Science’s crisis of faith

By Alan P. Lightman

Alan Lightman, a physicist and novelist, teaches at MIT. His new book, Mr g: A Novel About the Creation, will be published in January by Pantheon.

In the fifth century B.C., the philosopher Democritus proposed that all matter was made of tiny and indivisible atoms, which came in various sizes and textures—some hard and some soft, some smooth and some thorny. The atoms themselves were taken as givens. In the nineteenth century, scientists discovered that the chemical properties of atoms repeat periodically (and created the periodic table to reflect this fact), but the origins of such patterns remained mysterious. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists learned that the properties of an atom are determined by the number and placement of its electrons, the subatomic particles that orbit its nucleus. And we now know that all atoms heavier than helium were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars.

The history of science can be viewed as the recasting of phenomena that were once thought to be accidents as phenomena that can be understood in terms of fundamental causes and principles. One can add to the list of the fully explained: the hue of the sky, the orbits of planets, the angle of the wake of a boat moving through a lake, the six-sided patterns of snowflakes, the weight of a flying bustard, the temperature of boiling water, the size of raindrops, the circular shape of the sun. All these phenomena and many more, once thought to have been fixed at the beginning of time or to be the result of random events thereafter, have been explained as necessary consequences of the fundamental laws of nature—laws discovered by human beings.

This long and appealing trend may be coming to an end. Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles.

It is perhaps impossible to say how far apart the different universes may be, or whether they exist simultaneously in time. Some may have stars and galaxies like ours. Some may not. Some may be finite in size. Some may be infinite. Physicists call the totality of universes the “multiverse.” Alan Guth, a pioneer in cosmological thought, says that “the multiple-universe idea severely limits our hopes to understand the world from fundamental principles.” And the philosophical ethos of science is torn from its roots. As put to me recently by Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg, a man as careful in his words as in his mathematical calculations, “We now find ourselves at a historic fork in the road we travel to understand the laws of nature. If the multiverse idea is correct, the style of fundamental physics will be radically changed.”

The scientists most distressed by Weinberg’s “fork in the road” are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the “laws of nature,” which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so “elementary” particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.

However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.


“Back in the 1970s and 1980s,” says Alan Guth, “the feeling was that we were so smart, we almost had everything figured out.” What physicists had figured out were very accurate theories of three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force that binds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that is responsible for some forms of radioactive decay, and the electromagnetic force between electrically charged particles. And there were prospects for merging the theory known as quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of the fourth force, gravity, and thus pulling all of them into the fold of what physicists called the Theory of Everything, or the Final Theory. These theories of the 1970s and 1980s required the specification of a couple dozen parameters corresponding to the masses of the elementary particles, and another half dozen or so parameters corresponding to the strengths of the fundamental forces. The next step would then have been to derive most of the elementary particle masses in terms of one or two fundamental masses and define the strengths of all the fundamental forces in terms of a single fundamental force.

There were good reasons to think that physicists were poised to take this next step. Indeed, since the time of Galileo, physics has been extremely successful in discovering principles and laws that have fewer and fewer free parameters and that are also in close agreement with the observed facts of the world. For example, the observed rotation of the ellipse of the orbit of Mercury, 0.012 degrees per century, was successfully calculated using the theory of general relativity, and the observed magnetic strength of an electron, 2.002319 magnetons, was derived using the theory of quantum electrodynamics. More than any other science, physics brims with highly accurate agreements between theory and experiment.

Guth started his physics career in this sunny scientific world. Now sixty-four years old and a professor at MIT, he was in his early thirties when he proposed a major revision to the Big Bang theory, something called inflation. We now have a great deal of evidence suggesting that our universe began as a nugget of extremely high density and temperature about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding, thinning out, and cooling ever since. The theory of inflation proposes that when our universe was only about a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, a peculiar type of energy caused the cosmos to expand very rapidly. A tiny fraction of a second later, the universe returned to the more leisurely rate of expansion of the standard Big Bang model. Inflation solved a number of outstanding problems in cosmology, such as why the universe appears so homogeneous on large scales.

When I visited Guth in his third-floor office at MIT one cool day in May, I could barely see him above the stacks of paper and empty Diet Coke bottles on his desk. More piles of paper and dozens of magazines littered the floor. In fact, a few years ago Guth won a contest sponsored by the Boston Globe for the messiest office in the city. The prize was the services of a professional organizer for one day. “She was actually more a nuisance than a help. She took piles of envelopes from the floor and began sorting them according to size.” He wears aviator-style eyeglasses, keeps his hair long, and chain-drinks Diet Cokes. “The reason I went into theoretical physics,” Guth tells me, “is that I liked the idea that we could understand everything—i.e., the universe—in terms of mathematics and logic.” He gives a bitter laugh. We have been talking about the multiverse.


While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

The explanation is similar to the explanation of why we happen to live on a planet that has so many nice things for our comfortable existence: oxygen, water, a temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, and so on. Is this happy coincidence just good luck, or an act of Providence, or what? No, it is simply that we could not live on planets without such properties. Many other planets exist that are not so hospitable to life, such as Uranus, where the temperature is –371 degrees Fahrenheit, and Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid.

The multiverse offers an explanation to the fine-tuning conundrum that does not require the presence of a Designer. As Steven Weinberg says: “Over many centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave still less support for religion.”

Some physicists remain skeptical of the anthropic principle and the reliance on multiple universes to explain the values of the fundamental parameters of physics. Others, such as Weinberg and Guth, have reluctantly accepted the anthropic principle and the multiverse idea as together providing the best possible explanation for the observed facts.

If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles—to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are—is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true. Our universe is what it is because we are here. The situation could be likened to a school of intelligent fish who one day began wondering why their world is completely filled with water. Many of the fish, the theorists, hope to prove that the entire cosmos necessarily has to be filled with water. For years, they put their minds to the task but can never quite seem to prove their assertion. Then, a wizened group of fish postulates that maybe they are fooling themselves. Maybe there are, they suggest, many other worlds, some of them completely dry, and everything in between.


The most striking example of fine-tuning, and one that practically demands the multiverse to explain it, is the unexpected detection of what scientists call dark energy. Little more than a decade ago, using robotic telescopes in Arizona, Chile, Hawaii, and outer space that can comb through nearly a million galaxies a night, astronomers discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. As mentioned previously, it has been known since the late 1920s that the universe is expanding; it’s a central feature of the Big Bang model. Orthodox cosmological thought held that the expansion is slowing down. After all, gravity is an attractive force; it pulls masses closer together. So it was quite a surprise in 1998 when two teams of astronomers announced that some unknown force appears to be jamming its foot down on the cosmic accelerator pedal. The expansion is speeding up. Galaxies are flying away from each other as if repelled by antigravity. Says Robert Kirshner, one of the team members who made the discovery: “This is not your father’s universe.” (In October, members of both teams were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.)

Physicists have named the energy associated with this cosmological force dark energy. No one knows what it is. Not only invisible, dark energy apparently hides out in empty space. Yet, based on our observations of the accelerating rate of expansion, dark energy constitutes a whopping three quarters of the total energy of the universe. It is the invisible elephant in the room of science.

The amount of dark energy, or more precisely the amount of dark energy in every cubic centimeter of space, has been calculated to be about one hundred-millionth (10–8) of an erg per cubic centimeter. (For comparison, a penny dropped from waist-high hits the floor with an energy of about three hundred thousand—that is, 3 × 105—ergs.) This may not seem like much, but it adds up in the vast volumes of outer space. Astronomers were able to determine this number by measuring the rate of expansion of the universe at different epochs—if the universe is accelerating, then its rate of expansion was slower in the past. From the amount of acceleration, astronomers can calculate the amount of dark energy in the universe.

Theoretical physicists have several hypotheses about the identity of dark energy. It may be the energy of ghostly subatomic particles that can briefly appear out of nothing before self­annihilating and slipping back into the vacuum. According to quantum physics, empty space is a pandemonium of subatomic particles rushing about and then vanishing before they can be seen. Dark energy may also be associated with an as-yet-unobserved force field called the Higgs field, which is sometimes invoked to explain why certain kinds of matter have mass. (Theoretical physicists ponder things that other people do not.) And in the models proposed by string theory, dark energy may be associated with the way in which extra dimensions of space—beyond the usual length, width, and breadth—get compressed down to sizes much smaller than atoms, so that we do not notice them.

These various hypotheses give a fantastically large range for the theoretically possible amounts of dark energy in a universe, from something like 10115 ergs per cubic centimeter to –10115 ergs per cubic centimeter. (A negative value for dark energy would mean that it acts to decelerate the universe, in contrast to what is observed.) Thus, in absolute magnitude, the amount of dark energy actually present in our universe is either very, very small or very, very large compared with what it could be. This fact alone is surprising. If the theoretically possible positive values for dark energy were marked out on a ruler stretching from here to the sun, with zero at one end of the ruler and 10115 ergs per cubic centimeter at the other end, the value of dark energy actually found in our universe (10–8 ergs per cubic centimeter) would be closer to the zero end than the width of an atom.

On one thing most physicists agree: If the amount of dark energy in our universe were only a little bit different than what it actually is, then life could never have emerged. A little more and the universe would accelerate so rapidly that the matter in the young cosmos could never pull itself together to form stars and thence form the complex atoms made in stars. And, going into negative values of dark energy, a little less and the universe would decelerate so rapidly that it would recollapse before there was time to form even the simplest atoms.

Here we have a clear example of fine-tuning: out of all the possible amounts of dark energy that our universe might have, the actual amount lies in the tiny sliver of the range that allows life. There is little argument on this point. It does not depend on assumptions about whether we need liquid water for life or oxygen or particular biochemistries. As before, one is compelled to ask the question: Why does such fine-tuning occur? And the answer many physicists now believe: The multiverse. A vast number of universes may exist, with many different values of the amount of dark energy. Our particular universe is one of the universes with a small value, permitting the emergence of life. We are here, so our universe must be such a universe. We are an accident. From the cosmic lottery hat containing zillions of universes, we happened to draw a universe that allowed life. But then again, if we had not drawn such a ticket, we would not be here to ponder the odds.


The concept of the multiverse is compelling not only because it explains the problem of fine-tuning. As I mentioned earlier, the possibility of the multiverse is actually predicted by modern theories of physics. One such theory, called eternal inflation, is a revision of Guth’s inflation theory developed by Andrei Linde, Paul Steinhardt, and Alex Vilenkin in the early and mid-1980s. In regular inflation theory, the very rapid expansion of the infant universe is caused by an energy field, like dark energy, that is temporarily trapped in a condition that does not represent the lowest possible energy for the universe as a whole—like a marble sitting in a small dent on a table. The marble can stay there, but if it is jostled it will roll out of the dent, roll across the table, and then fall to the floor (which represents the lowest possible energy level). In the theory of eternal inflation, the dark energy field has many different values at different points of space, analogous to lots of marbles sitting in lots of dents on the cosmic table. Moreover, as space expands rapidly, the number of marbles increases. Each of these marbles is jostled by the random processes inherent in quantum mechanics, and some of the marbles will begin rolling across the table and onto the floor. Each marble starts a new Big Bang, essentially a new universe. Thus, the original, rapidly expanding universe spawns a multitude of new universes, in a never-ending process.

String theory, too, predicts the possibility of the multiverse. Originally conceived in the late 1960s as a theory of the strong nuclear force but soon enlarged far beyond that ambition, string theory postulates that the smallest constituents of matter are not subatomic particles like the electron but extremely tiny one-dimensional “strings” of energy. These elemental strings can vibrate at different frequencies, like the strings of a violin, and the different modes of vibration correspond to different fundamental particles and forces. String theories typically require seven dimensions of space in addition to the usual three, which are compacted down to such small sizes that we never experience them, like a three-dimensional garden hose that appears as a one-dimensional line when seen from a great distance. There are, in fact, a vast number of ways that the extra dimensions in string theory can be folded up, and each of the different ways corresponds to a different universe with different physical properties.

It was originally hoped that from a theory of these strings, with very few additional parameters, physicists would be able to explain all the forces and particles of nature—all of reality would be a manifestation of the vibrations of elemental strings. String theory would then be the ultimate realization of the Platonic ideal of a fully explicable cosmos. In the past few years, however, physicists have discovered that string theory predicts not a unique universe but a huge number of possible universes with different properties. It has been estimated that the “string landscape” contains 10500 different possible universes. For all practical purposes, that number is infinite.

It is important to point out that neither eternal inflation nor string theory has anywhere near the experimental support of many previous theories in physics, such as special relativity or quantum electrodynamics, mentioned earlier. Eternal inflation or string theory, or both, could turn out to be wrong. However, some of the world’s leading physicists have devoted their careers to the study of these two theories.


Back to the intelligent fish. The wizened old fish conjecture that there are many other worlds, some with dry land and some with water. Some of the fish grudgingly accept this explanation. Some feel relieved. Some feel like their lifelong ruminations have been pointless. And some remain deeply concerned. Because there is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

“We had a lot more confidence in our intuition before the discovery of dark energy and the multiverse idea,” says Guth. “There will still be a lot for us to understand, but we will miss out on the fun of figuring everything out from first principles.”

One wonders whether a young Alan Guth, considering a career in science today, would choose theoretical physics.

http://harpers.org/archive/2011/12/0083720

South Sudan President Dr. Salva Kiir Makes First Visit to Israel

Posted: December 20, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

JERUSALEM — Israel’s premier and president pledged their support for the fledgling state of South Sudan on Tuesday in talks with visiting President Salva Kiir, official statements said.

Kiir met Israeli President Shimon Peres during the morning, then held a working lunch with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a flying visit of less than 24-hours, his first to the Jewish state.

“I am very moved to come to Israel and to walk on the soil of the promised land,” Peres’s office quoted Kiir as saying.

“As a nation that rose from dust, and as the few who fought the many, you have established a flourishing country that offers a future and economic prosperity to its children,” Kiir said. “I have come to see your success.”

Peres said that as deputy defence minister he had met with south Sudanese leaders in the 1960s when Israel gave them “extensive assistance in agriculture and infrastructures.”

“Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it,” Peres said.

Following talks with Netanyahu, his bureau announced that an Israeli delegation “would shortly go to South Sudan in order to examine how to aid the people, who underwent great suffering in recent years, to develop their new state.”

Kiir was to meet Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during the afternoon before leaving in the early evening, officials said.

Israel recognised South Sudan and established full diplomatic relations with Kiir’s government shortly after it declared independence in July following a 22-year civil war with the mostly-Muslim north.

The Jewish state does not have relations with Khartoum, which it has accused of serving as a base for Islamic militants, and instead supported the rebel movement of the mainly Christian and animist south during the war.

Israel’s ties with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which is now the south’s ruling party, have long been close, with the Jewish state allegedly providing arms during the war, although neither side has publicly acknowledged any weapons transfers.

Tuesday’s meetings were expected to focus on the issue of Sudanese illegal migrants to Israel.

Thousands of migrants from the former united Sudan, including hundreds from the south are currently in Israel, which seeks to repatriate them.

So far, this year, more than 12,000 illegals have sneaked across the Egyptian border into southern Israel, the vast majority of them economic migrants from Africa, prompting Israel to ramp up measures to stop the flow.

Netanyahu has said he will visit Africa in the coming months to discuss the issue of illegal immigration, but did not say which countries he would visit.

Press reports suggested he would travel in February to visit Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, but he was not expected to visit South Sudan out of security concerns.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jS_1UK8PqPs6lIJZRCcx44nl9New?docId=CNG.47ddcd6c52c6e2d24db19862075a89be.831

South Sudan leader makes first visit to Israel
AFP
JERUSALEM — South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Tuesday visited Israel for the first time for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials, a diplomatic source told AFP. “This is a working visit of just one day,” he said, 

Peres meets South Sudanese counterpart in Jerusalem
Ynetnews
President Shimon Peres met with his South Sudan counterpart in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Salva Kiir said that his visit in Israel is a special historic moment. He said that Israel has always supported the Sudanese people, noting “Without you we would not 

South Sudan Vice President Says the Country’s Top Rebel Leader, George Athor 
ABC News
South Sudan vice president says the country’s top rebel leader, George Athor, has been killed…

Sudan-South Sudan: Destruction and Desolation in Abyei
AllAfrica.com
Their homes and properties were looted and burned to the ground and they now remain stranded in dire conditions in makeshift camps in South Sudan where they suffer form lack of food, clean water and sanitation. They are unable to return to their towns 

Top rebel leader in South Sudan killed by army
The Associated Press
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s military forces killed the country’s highest-profile rebel leader, a man who posed a significant security threat to peace inside the world’s newest country, an official said Tuesday. Rebel leader George Athor was 

UN Must Aid Refugee Return to Sudan’s Abyei, Amnesty Says
BusinessWeek
20 (Bloomberg) — The United Nations must accelerate efforts to help more than 100000 people return to their homes in Abyei, a region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan, Amnesty International said. “The Sudanese Army and allied militia have driven 

South Sudan president makes lightening visit to Israel
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The president of the new country of South Sudan arrived in Israel for a short working visit during which the possibility of repatriating Sudanese infiltrators to the country set to be discussed. Salva Kiir met Tuesday with Israeli 

South Sudan: Duk County MP Refutes VP Allegation of Revenge Attacks On Murle
AllAfrica.com
Juba — A Member of Parliament (MP) in the National Legislative Assembly representing Duk County in Jonglei State Philip Thon Leek yesterday refuted statements alleged by the Vice President Riek Machar that the Bor Community and Lou Nuer had gone out 

BREAKING NEWS: South Sudan’s rebel leader George Athor “killed”
Sudan Tribune
December 20, 2011 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese rebel leader and renegade general, George Athor, has been killed, announced the country’s Vice-President Riek Machar Teny in a press conference held in the capital Juba today. 

Massive airlift launched to aid Sudanese refugees in South Sudan
UNHCR (press release)
Today they reached South Sudan aboard the first of 18 flights planned for the airlift. JUBA, South Sudan, December 20 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency today launched a massive airlift from Kenya to bring urgently needed aid to around 50000 Sudanese 

South Sudan: We Need to Speed Up Our Priorities in Development
AllAfrica.com
Ramciel is strategically situated almost in South Sudan heartland and it suffices to say that it will be the focal point where the trans-continental African highway will intersect making South Sudantruly a central African nation. 

South Sudan: Interior Minister Gives Foreigners 30 Days to Produce Documents
AllAfrica.com
This announcement according to the Minister is in line with the national police to organize presence of foreign nationals in South Sudan, adding that all foreign nationals working in the country should acquire work permit from the Ministry of Labour, 

South Sudan: Marking, Renaming Our Cities, Streets and Historical Locations
AllAfrica.com
I thought about this in the first year of my arrival from United States of America but there has been a great news that, in the previous and even the most current (Transitional Constitution of the Republic of south Sudan 2011), granted National 

Peres meets South Sudanese counterpart in Jerusalem
Ynetnews
President Shimon Peres met with his South Sudan counterpart in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Salva Kiir said that his visit in Israel is a special historic moment. He said that Israel has always supported the Sudanese people, noting “Without you we would not 

South Sudan demands presence of oil companies in negotiations
Al-Bawaba
The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has made proposals to have representatives from oil companies included in the next round of post-session negotiations mediated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), Pagan Amum, 

Japan to send troops to South Sudan
China Daily
TOKYO – The Japanese government on Tuesday endorsed a plan to deploy a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) engineering unit to South Sudan to take part in United Nations peacekeeping activities there. The engineering unit will work to improve 

Uganda, S. Sudan agree on border intelligence
Daily Monitor
By Steven Ariong (email the author) The governments of South Sudan and Uganda have agreed to have a joint intelligence team to monitor security at the border between Karamoja region and South Sudan. The two countries reached the agreement during a 

End corruption in South Sudan before it is too late
New Sudan Vision
The Republic of South Sudan is speeding its way to the top of most corrupt World newest Nation of this decade. It is beyond dispute that South Sudan has already developed rampant corrupt political practices of immoral leadership. 

UN Special Representative for South Sudan Apologizes to Sudan
Sudan Vision
Juba – The Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the Republic of South Sudan, Ms Hilda Johnson, has apologized to Sudan for inaccurate statement she earlier made at a UN Security Council Session on recent incidents in the Blue Nile State, 
Sudanese Woman Fights Cancer, Misconceptions
KELOLAND TV
Susan Paul is a South Sudanese immigrant living in Sioux Falls and she’s fighting for her life. The single mother of two was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer two years ago. “The only thing that went through my mind was my children because they are 
South Sudan leader makes first visit to Israel
AFP
JERUSALEM — South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Tuesday visited Israel for the first time for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials, a diplomatic source told AFP. “This is a working visit of just one day,” he said, 
Japan to Dispatch Ground Forces Engineers to South Sudan
PanOrient News
Tokyo- (PanOrient News) Japan today decided to dispatch Ground Self-Defense Force (JSDF) engineers of some 330 personnel to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) to help rebuild South Sudan. They will work on improving

By MICHAEL ONYIEGO, Associated Press.

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s military forces killed the country’s highest-profile rebel leader, a man who posed a significant security threat to peace inside the world’s newest country, an official said Tuesday.

Rebel leader George Athor was a former lieutenant general in South Sudan’s military during the 1983-2005 civil war with Sudan. But Athor launched a rebellion after losing an April 2010 election for governor of Jonglei state, a vote he maintained was rigged.

Troops loyal to Athor fought repeatedly with South Sudanese forces over the last year, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

South Sudanese officials on Tuesday leveled serious charges against Athor, saying he had been making contacts with the region’s most insidious rebel group — the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA — and that officials in Sudan’s capital Khartoum had been financing him.

South Sudan has repeatedly accused its northern neighbor, Sudan, with providing support and assistance to Athor and other rebel groups. Sudan has denied those accusations.

South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar, in announcing Athor’s death on Tuesday, said Athor had been in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda recently in a drive to recruit fighters. Col. Philip Aguer, South Sudan’s military spokesman, said Athor was making militant contacts in preparation for a Christmastime attack.

Aguer said one South Sudanese soldier and one of Athor’s men were also killed during the exchange on Monday evening.

Aguer said Athor’s death was a major victory for the people of South Sudan which “has deprived Khartoum of an important tool.”

Athor was the last major rebel leader still active in South Sudan.

South Sudan has tried repeatedly to broker peace with Athor. During South Sudan’s independence ceremony from Sudan in July, President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to all rebels fighting in the country, including Athor.

Machar said Tuesday that the deal still stands.

“I call on all who rebelled against the government to lay down their arms and join the process of peace and development,” he said.

Even as South Sudan faces the threat of military action from its northern neighbor, John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an advocacy group that does work in Sudan, said Athor’s death highlights the urgent need to address divisions within South Sudan.

“Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities that feel marginalized in the process of independence,” Prendergast said.

Athor’s death will likely be seen as a victory for South Sudan, which has been plagued by rebel movements for years. But Jonah Leff, a Researcher for the Small Arms Survey, a security analysis group working in South Sudan, said he does not believe Athor’s death will solve the rebel problem.

“I do not believe that an SPLA policy of assassinating rebel militia leaders is an effective one,” said Leff. “The killing of Athor is likely to embolden many of his followers as well as other militias, including the SSLA and the Shilluk rebels in Unity and Upper Nile, respectively.”

The South Sudan Liberation Army, or SSLA, is comprised of forces formerly loyal to rebel leader Gatluak Gai, who was killed in July by his own men, weeks after accepting South Sudan’s offer of amnesty.

The SSLA operates in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State, and could become a major problem for the government.

“In fact,” said Leff, “the SSLA has been in serious unification talks with Athor, whose death is certain to create a vacuum of power in Jonglei, allowing the SSLA to rise to prominence.”

Athor’s death comes just days after the SSDM and SSLA issued a joint statement accusing South Sudan of attempting to assassinate him. The statement — issued Dec. 13 — said a man dressed as a priest and a woman were found carrying guns as they attempted to meet Athor. According to the statement, the two alleged assassins claimed to represent the Anglican Church, which has attempted to broker peace between Athor and the government of South Sudan.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iY5QnhT52XBGG_iu4TPdmHoMMMQw?docId=a888b6f7c299445f8c845461817b59b0

South Sudan claims death of rebel leader

By Sarah Jones, CNN

December 21, 2011

CNN)— The newly independent Republic of South Sudan has announced the death of a prominent renegade rebel leader.

Lt. Gen. George Athor and one of his soldiers were killed in a clash with the country’s military, Vice President Riek Machar told reporters Tuesday. He said they had infiltrated South Sudan on their way out of Rwanda via the eastern border area of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

The claim has not been verified by an independent body.

A dissident commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, Athor rebelled after losing a gubernatorial election in the spring of 2010. He called for numerous orchestrated clashes after the announcement of his defeat.

“Under the banner of his South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) and its military wing, the South Sudan Army, Gen. Athor was considered the most powerful post-election insurrectionist” the Geneva-based independent research project said in its 2011 report on what was then southern Sudan.

The Small Arms Survey says that although both the government of South Sudan and the SPLA have alleged that Athor received support from the Sudan government in Khartoum, there is no independent evidence to support these claims.

The death of Athor was not part of a government plan, because the government had declared general amnesty to all rebel groups in South Sudan, the vice president told reporters. The government is appealing to all of Athor’s followers to heed the amnesty, which was declared on July 9 when the country celebrated its independence from Sudan.

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, said the reported death of Athor “highlights the urgency with which the South Sudan government, with international support, must address inter-communal divisions within the South. Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities that feel marginalized in the process of independence.”

The Enough Project works to expose genocide and crimes against humanity.

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/20/world/africa/south-sudan-rebel-leader/

South Sudan forces say kill rebel leader Athor

* Rebel leader was making a recruiting run-army

* Athor’s group says can not confirm his death

* Militia was seen as threat to new nation’s stability (Adds Enough Project statement, background on Athor)

JUBA, Dec 20 (Reuters) – South Sudan’s army said on Tuesday it had killed a prominent rebel leader near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, dealing a blow to insurgents who have threatened the security of the newly-independent nation.

South Sudan split away from Sudan in July under a peace deal that ended decades of civil war with Khartoum, but the young, oil-producing country has struggled with multiple armed uprisings.

George Athor, who left the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) saying the country’s dominant party had rigged an election last year, was killed in Morobo County in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said.

“George Athor was killed in Marobo County when he tried to enter South Sudan from Congo. He met with a clash with an SPLA patrol unit,” Aguer said, adding that one SPLA soldier was killed and another wounded in the fighting.

Athor was returning to recruit more soldiers, Aguer said. He did not say when the clash took place.

The rebel leader was considered one of the biggest threats to South Sudan’s stability, although reports have varied widely over the size of his force, which remained focused in remote border areas between Jonglei and the oil-producing Upper Nile.

South Sudan’s army said in February Athor may have had around 2,000 men under his command, while Athor has claimed to lead a force of thousands capable of taking major centres across the country.

The army blamed forces aligned to Athor for an attack last month that killed nine people, including six civilians, in Jonglei – the site of an oil field controlled by France’s Total .

South Sudan has accused Khartoum of flying in arms and cash for Athor’s troops in an attempt to destabilise the country. Khartoum dismisses the charges.

The old civil war foes have regularly accused the other of backing rebel groups on either side of the tense and poorly-drawn border since South Sudan’s independence, complicating talks over unresolved issues like debt and oil.

James Nuot Puot, a spokesman for Athor’s group, said he could not confirm the reports of his commander’s death. Calls to Athor’s satellite phone were not answered.

John Prendergast, co-founder of the activist group Enough Project said Athor’s reported death did not mean an end to South Sudan’s divisions.

“Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities” to groups that feel marginalised, he said in an emailed statement.

Aguer said he believed Athor’s death would be a major blow to the rebel militia but they would likely continue to fight. “The rebellion will not end, but it will be weaker,” he said.

About 2 million people died in Sudan’s civil war, waged for all but a few years from 1955 to 2005 over oil, ideology, religion and ethnicity. (Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL6E7NK40J20111220?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true

SPLA besiege George Athor in C. Equatoria: SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer

December 20, 2011 (JUBA) — A Sudan People’s Liberation Army unit has besieged rebel leader George Athor and his forces in Central Equatoria’s Morobo county area, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Phillip Aguer, the army spokesman said today.

JPEG - 26 kb
FILE – Southern Sudan rebel leader George Athor, looks on during a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011 (AP)

This development comes merely a day after two rebel groups currently operating in the newly independent South Sudan issued a joint statement claiming they had successfully aborted an alleged attempt to kill Athor last Tuesday.

The renegade rebel leader recently threatened recently to wage more attacks in South Sudan, including his forces’ intention to capture Bor, capital of Jonglei state. The move came after the failure of secret talks with Juba held in Nairobi last November.

(ST)

http://www.sudantribune.com/SPLA-besiege-George-Athor-in-C,41039

South Sudan’s rebel leader George Athor “killed”

December 20, 2011 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese rebel leader and renegade general, George Athor, has been killed, announced the country’s Vice-President Riek Machar Teny in a press conference held in the capital Juba today.

Earlier in the day, Athor was reported to be under siege by South Sudan’s army, SPLA, in Morobo country in Central Equatoria state.

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Southern Sudan rebel leader George Athor (AP Photo/Sayyid Abdul Azim)

According to Teny, Athor was killed yesterday, Monday, in Morobo near the capital, Juba.

The circumstances of his alleged death are unclear at the moment but Athor’s rebel group on Sunday claimed it had aborted an attempt to kill him.

One of Athor’s wives told Sudan Tribune she suspects her husband may have been killed because she lost contact with him since Monday.

Athor has been leading a rebellion against the government of South Sudan since he defected from the SPLA in 2010 after he was announced to be the loser of gubernatorial elections in Jonglei State, where he stood as an independent candidate.

His rebellion has been one of the biggest security threats that faced South Sudan since it became an independent country this year.

Hundreds of people have been killed this year in clashes between Athor’s men and the SPLA.

More updates to follow

(ST)

http://www.sudantribune.com/BREAKING-NEWS-South-Sudan-s-rebel,41044

Scholarships for human rights advocates to study human rights Law at Oxford

Posted: December 20, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Education, Jobs

Reec Akuak

Vice President

The South Sudanese Community, USA

Growth — Development — Community

202.656.TSSC (8772)

Direct/Cell: 202.596.6009

Fax: 202.280.1007

R.Akuak@TSSC.us

http://www.TSSC.us

Publicity email Nov-11 _new deadline_.pdf