RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. So naturally the fanatical fans were devastated, the normal fans were sad, and the rest of us understood. Comparisons made to Martin Luther King, Jr, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, and yes even Tony Stark seemed maybe somewhat exaggerated. Though not by much.

He possessed intense curiosity, powerful intuition, great vision and the willfulness to see them happen. Much of the technological world is a knockoff of Apple’s or Pixar’s designs. Some people made liking his designs their identify. Pretty powerful for expensive toys and a great target for those of us who like to be outsiders.

At a time when the country needs young people interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Jobs was a household name and role model. America needs more celebrities who inspire us to achieve based on their STEM accomplishments and less of those who get us to mindlessly vegetate on our couches. We need more true innovation. Hopefully he was just a big tree obscuring saplings who will become big on their own.

Sad to see him go. When he stepped down from Apple a few weeks ago, my hope was he would do like Bill Gates and get into philanthropy aimed at education. I hoped to hear more inspiring speeches.

Some of his quotes

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

His how to live before your die speech to Standford is a great speech. (Transcript)

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STEM Celebs

This interesting article on the need of more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates in the United States to compete with other countries strikes me as the kind of thing said to Romans right before the fall. Maybe also to the English just before World War I. Of course, predictions of the future are fraught with misreading the most crucial factors.

In fact, scientists and engineers are celebrities in most countries. They’re not seen as geeks or misfits, as they too often are in the U.S., but rather as society’s leaders and innovators. In China, eight of the top nine political posts are held by engineers. In the U.S., almost no engineers or scientists are engaged in high-level politics, and there is a virtual absence of engineers in our public policy debates.

Why does this matter? Because if American students have a negative impression – or no impression at all – of science and engineering, then they’re hardly likely to choose them as professions. Already, 70% of engineers with PhD’s who graduate from U.S. universities are foreign-born. Increasingly, these talented individuals are not staying in the U.S – instead, they’re returning home, where they find greater opportunities.

Global leadership is not a birthright. Despite what many Americans believe, our nation does not possess an innate knack for greatness.  Greatness must be worked for and won by each new generation. Right now that is not happening. But we still have time. If we place the emphasis we should on education, research and innovation we can lead the world in the decades to come. But the only way to ensure we remain great tomorrow is to increase our investment in science and engineering today.

How would someone determine whether someone is a celebrity? This article did not define it other than as a leader or innovator. If one used by number of Twitter followers, then Lady Gaga is the current leader with the current president trailing at number four and with only 81% the number of followers. Well, even the President of the United States was a lawyer and not a STEM educated person.

I thought maybe the Secretary of Energy would be a good place to look for a leader with scientific credentials. It appears Chu (physcist) and Bodman (chemical engineer) were. The three prior to them were lawyers at best. The rest of the cabinet were mostly lawyers or political administrators. Chu is the only scientist on the list. The president’s science advisor is a physicist, so that is good.

Conservatives do after all say government is the worst of society not the best. They look to corporations to take the societal lead. So maybe top CEOs from the Forbes top 500 list would be a better metric? Three of the top five is pretty good.

  1. Walmart – Michael Duke – Industrial Engineering
  2. Royal Dutch Shell – Peter Voser – Business Administration
  3. Exxon Mobil – Rex Tillerson – Civil Engineering
  4. BP – Bob Dudley – Chemical Engineering
  5. Toyota – Akio Toyoda – Business Administration

Personally my favorite scientific celebrities are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, Jamie Hynaman, and Adam Savage. We Americans like to see people fail. Each of these have: Neil and Pluto, Stephen lost the black hole bet, Jamie and Adam often misjudge what happens in a test. The spectacular blunders of science are reported as a discovery. Reports on the discoveries in the news usually sound as though it was the intent all along. We get the impression scientists and engineers spend every hour successfully making cool new things.

What scares me of having scientists are leaders is the over expectation of them to be better than anyone else. A smart person is only as good as the decisions they make. Even a good engineer can make mistakes. The ability to acknowledge and work towards correcting errors is not an exclusively scientific ability.