Some people think that the world would be a better place if research in science and mathematics were geared towards colonizing Mars but I, on the other hand, would rather stay focused on the implementation of unorthodox approaches to science and mathematics. That’s the push behind Hexagon Lavish. As I’ve stated in my definition, I was never interested in the pursuit of my degree although, if I wanted to, I could go back and obtain my Ph.D. in mathematics (a Ph.D. in mathematics is likely to last for seven-to-eight years, presumably), however, my pursuit wouldn’t necessarily be for career reasons but more of a personal vendetta, so to speak. Instead, I’m taking that animus and applying it in the form of my unorthodox approach to research and seeing how it lines-up with various interpretations relative to quantum mechanics. In this day and age, you really don’t need that many Einsteins to develop new products. One Einstein can produce an idea that’ll change the world, supposedly.
Physics is not a warm-body problem. You don’t need a huge surplus of warm-bodies to think of new ideas because once one person thinks of a new idea, he’ll write it down while everyone else just copies it. Examples of warm-body problems are management and cleaning toilets. A person has to physically be there, on-the-job, to do the cleaning, so the consequence is that there are more jobs for those that clean toilets than there are for those engaged in research on “colonizing Mars”. Also, one would have to factor-in the status of our (U.S.) domestic economy. Some would say that fundamental physics has the potential to create new technologies that will be the cause and effect of bringing people goods and information, alternative and “cleaner energy” and even faster computers. Well yeah, but not without a sound, economic support structure. If all you have are groups of brilliant physicists and research engineers–and a horrible economy–things will end up looking like the Soviet Union, here in the United States. However, I’m not staunchly against high-technology. An example of a place in which a good bit of high-technology is incredibly used would be an investment bank. Whenever you see a picture of a trading floor, the thing that stands out the most are all of the computers being used at the moment. Inside those computers are millions of lines of code–and that code is making critical decisions–decisions that literally influence the “fate” of the world. At least, that’s what runs through the minds of investment bankers. Science is a huge issue to the investment banker here, seeing how babysitting supercomputers and writing programs for them documents the role that science and engineering takes in the world of investment banking. The science comes into play because a lot of what these supercomputers do is basically model how the world works.
If I had enough money in the bank–and had a Ph.D. in applied mathematics or physics–I’d camp out at some major research university and write CMA code and publish papers for the remainder of my life. However, I decided to do something else.
Some things have become cheaper since the 1960s such as computer technology; some things haven’t such as plumbers. Robots have also become cheaper which is one reason why astrophysicists tend to be incredibly strongly against sending astronauts into space. Speaking of space, what exactly has the ISS done that is actually useful towards scientific progress and space exploration? They’re just a small footnote scrawled in the short history of space exploration.
Shall I expand a little bit more? I’ll speak on NASA. NASA is a company that hasn’t had a well-defined mission since the end of Apollo back in the early 1970s. They had a huge explosion in activity–the space shuttle, two space stations, space-based telescopes spread across the electromagnetic spectrum, etc. Of course, that’s just one-half of NASA‘s scope of activities. The other half (as far as aeronautics goes): wing design, engine design, de-icing, civil aviation safety and systems, etc. This, in turn, led to an unfocused and diffused agency that now has the symptoms of ADHD in the form of short-term focus on a succession of uncoordinated concepts. Contrary to popular belief, NASA never had a coherent research program that allowed them to get down to the nitty-gritty of development of next-generation rockets/engines/systems for anything that can reach below low-earth orbit. Science has its share of wingnut-scientists that dig themselves deep in the grips of post-adolescent dreams and Star Trek-like aspirations. These same wingnut-scientists have direct contact with Congressmen with proclamations of “new ideas” that’ll “help” NASA. These “ideas” range from ridiculous to extremely bizarre: Alcubierre warp drives, space elevators, zero point energy, (Podlenikov) gravitational shielding, etc. Congress knows nothing about science, yet they’ll make contact with NASA headquarters and say that they have a “constituent”, claim that he or she is a scientist and that this supposed “scientist” would like to know if anyone at NASA “has an idea” or if anyone at NASA has thought about a certain idea. NASA is a political organization.
“Scientific research”, “research and development” and the like are not exclusively or inherently governmental activities.
“A commercial activity is a recurring service that could be performed by the private sector and is resourced, performed, and controlled by the agency through performance by government personnel, a contract, or a fee-for-service agreement. A commercial activity is not so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government personnel. Commercial activities may be found within, or throughout, organizations that perform inherently governmental activities or classified work.”
In reference to weird ideas, NASA isn’t alone. The U.S. Air Force has its share in the nutty category as well. NASA and the U.S. Air Force spend enormous amounts of R&D money on ideas that violate the “laws” of physics. The rationale behind investing R&D money on these ideas stems from the odds of success–extremely small as they are–still, if these ideas do indeed work out, the ROI would be immense.
If research and development were a top priority at NASA or any other research facility that’s concerned about the next revolutionary propulsion technology, the answer would be to go low-tech. The United States has this weird, “gee-whiz” fascination with [revolutionary] technology. At times, this country gets lucky and those technologies allow for breakthroughs in some areas of research. In the case of venturing off into space, it appears that the trouble is in getting things into LEO (lower earth orbit) at a cost that’s efficiently inexpensive. This is why the Russians and Chinese seem to be better with this particular implementation.
People need to learn that they cannot get around the basic laws of physics through means of “willpower”. The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of visions, the problem is that different people have different visions. If you so choose to go high-tech then the skill level of the people working on the rockets go up and you won’t be able to get a community college-educated person to put wire A into part B.
So, why are most astrophysicists more at ease and comfortable with their preference for the U.S. to get totally out of the manned space flight business? I’ll address that by stating that a good majority of the animus isn’t directed at manned space flight per se. Take a look at what happened to Constellation. Constellation was a budgetary train wreck. A healthy manned space program may increase funding for science but no one thought that Constellation–or, its budget–was viable. Astrophysicists aren’t your most sought-after experts on politics either. Perhaps, there are political reasons that are greatly defined inasmuch as manned space programs go, however, those political reasons have to take into consideration that if the question is how much astronomy can be done for how much money, then the answer at face-value is “…don’t use people”. That might not be the right question but it’s the question astrophysicists apply their expertise in. Ironically, this is the sort of thing that killed the central planned economies of both Russia and China; without market prices, you have no way of even measuring economic efficiency and therefore, you end up with projects that just eat away at huge amounts of resources that could have been used for other things.
As far as rockets go, the thing about rockets that you need to understand is that you don’t have high speeds until you get out of the atmosphere. By the time you reach Mach 10, you’re in a vacuum, meaning that you don’t have to worry all that much about hypersonic aerodynamics. Now, you have people who will come out of the woodworks with the “excuse” that, in the past, we, as a country, went from having no human in space to putting one on the moon within a span of only ten years and therefore, with the technology that we have today, should be able to do the same within a shorter frame of time. Well, people need to understand that just because some things were seemingly easier to implement in retrospect does not mean everything in today’s modern world would be even easier in spite of having more sophisticated “technology”. All of the wishful thinking, “willpower” and money in the world does not make an idea that is inherently infeasible, impractical or uneconomical all of a sudden evolve into being feasible, practical or economical. Please note, that for this example that I’m making in regards to NASA and space science, that I am mixing science and politics together since there is no way that you can deal with issues the likes of the space program without having to mix science, politics and economics together.
In reference to why I would prefer a more low-tech approach over a high-tech one is because, at times, high-technology is often useless and can be counterproductive. Case in point, if the objective is to get stuff into low-earth orbit as cheaply as possible, then it’s a business goal to do so. However, if you’re in it for the “science”, you’ll end up spending huge amounts of money on things that probably won’t work and you’ll end up getting nothing accomplished. The problem with high-risk technology is that sometimes it won’t work. I’m against using untested technology to do things “in the next eight or so years”. When making plans out to 2020 or so, we have to use tried-and-true technologies and then do what we can to beat down the cost of getting into low-earth orbit. When 2020 comes around, we’ll then be able to see exactly which technologies are “promising”. Although I’m not one to have all that many hang-ups over “basic research”, I am totally against holding the U.S. space program hostage to that sort of research. One thing that helps the Chinese space program is that people in China aren’t afraid to copy the United States or Russia when the U.S. or Russia is known to do things better. In any case, once you argue that you should be funded for the “sake of helping society” then you’ll be encumbered with pondering on which sciences would benefit the most from that funding. For every one dollar that goes towards research in space means less money for research in biotechnology, as an example. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend money on weird technology, it’s just that we shouldn’t expect weird technology to resuscitate the U.S. manned space program. Any advanced propulsion system is not going to be ready before 2025 and when scram-jets are first being used, it shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to see them blowing up from time to time. Advanced propulsion will not save the U.S. manned space program.
To be fair, NASA HQ and Congressmen are doing their jobs. If it’s desired that something get accomplished efficiently you’ll have no other option but to go “lean and mean”. The trouble that you’ll get into is in dealing with billions of dollars rather than just millions of dollars. Once you reach that point, you’ll no longer be able to go “lean and mean” since you’ll need large numbers of people to track the money and large numbers of people just for the bureaucratic and management touches. A considerably big project is difficult to go through with because it’s impossible to avoid bureaucratic obstacles in multi-billion dollar programs. And yes, bureaucracy can kill your project. If people want funding for research in scram-jets, they’ll need to go up to Congress and say, in all honesty, “This is basic research. Scram-jets could be the next big thing but there is a 97% chance that it will lead to no new discovery in space travel and will probably produce nothing useful at all.” With that said, you won’t get a billion dollars to do research–upfront–but you might squeeze $10 million out of them and use that to fund a “lean and mean” approach in the form of a small-time project. Five or so years go by, you go right back to Congress and either confess that your research failed miserably and that you had no clue as to what you were doing or prove to them [with results] that your research shows considerably positive proof that you have a product-in-the-works and that $10 billion in order to put it into production. Just beware that “production systems” and “research systems” do not mix.
When it comes to one’s opinion of Congress, you’ll have a more informed opinion of them once you begin to see the world as they see it. A lot of what they do makes sense once you learn and sympathize with how they see the world. Let’s say that there is a particular Congressman that you abhor but you have to lobby to this particular Congressman since you’re relying on his “okay” for funding for your scientific research project that you believe–in your heart-of-hearts–will benefit society as a whole. If you go up to this Congressman and subconsciously you are thinking to yourself “..he’s an idiot and I hate him”, most people will catch on pretty quickly and they’ll stop listening to you. Politicians, in general, know this and have a sense for what people are really thinking. The power of influence relies on your understanding of others’ views of the world around you.
For the past two years, I have pondered back-and-forth with starting up Hexagon Lavish as an actual company and it’s still a tug-o-war in my head. I’m more of a research engineer than I would ever be as a businessman. But that’s just a fear of mine that I need to overcome. Perhaps, I’m just bluffing. In actuality, I have no fear whatsoever in regards to Hexagon Lavish being an actual research entity–a real research entity. I have no doubt that there are a number of investors interested in what I have to offer as far as research goes. However, would my role as principal research engineer remain if I start Hexagon Lavish as a company? Who will do the technical work alongside me? Who would I hire to do the administrative work? Who would manage the projects? Exactly how many entry-level engineers should I consider bringing into the fray? Experimentalists? Solid-state physicists?
Questions such as the aforementioned come to mind, especially since I’m here in the States. You see, here in the U.S., industries run to the government for R&D support. In contrast, the Chinese and Korean governments support their industries and it makes sense inasmuch as those industries export to other countries including the U.S. In the world that’s all about business, a company the likes of General Electric, to import Chinese high-speed rail technology, it does not help the U.S. economy because such technology is sponsored by state and the pseudo-federal government–and that financing comes from taxpayers. Anyone that has a firm grip on the laws of Economics (which are no different from the laws of Physics) should know that the economic situation here in the States will not be changing for at least another forty years or so. Now, how many people are really seeking work here in the States? Do they have the credentials (i.e., a Ph.D.)? I ask that because as far as Ph.D.s go, there really isn’t an employment problem. For them, it’s more of a psychological problem and most of them have learned to deal with that psychological problem just by simply getting angry.
A lot of your current news outlets have been reporting of this supposed “shortage” of scientists here in the United States–they’ve been reporting of this “shortage” since the 1990s. There’s nothing new here. There are people that can be excused on the basis of having a lack of knowledge but if that lack of knowledge turns into a means of defense then that means of defense will encourage those in power to come across idiotically. On average, the United States cranks out over 1,000 new Ph.D.s every year. If companies cannot figure out a way to hire 1,000 new people a year (the 1,000 that they supposedly need to babysit supercomputers and develop simulation models), then something is horribly wrong. However, I do understand that Ph.D.s are getting jobs but the process is rather excruciatingly painful. It seems that the Ph.D. program is indeed not well-suited for getting people into industry. Think about it. Most people would be grateful for their job, however, they are not okay with the fact that they practically had to fight their way [with the system] in order to get to where they are. When I attended college, I had a few professors that would tell me to do one thing but I would do the opposite because out of those professors, one of them supported my decision to do that exact opposite. You can tell exactly who the people with power are since the person with power doesn’t have to change whereas the person without power does. See, the stated power structures do not match the actual power structures. If I were working for someone else, the CEO of that company possesses more power than I would. He could fire me more easily than I would be able to get him fired. Then again, he doesn’t pretend otherwise.
As far as what my position on academia goes, I’ll say that one problem with academia is that people in academia, that are in charge, do not like to talk about how much power they possess which is a bad thing because of the fact that they’re able to avoid the responsibility that comes along with that power. For instance, take a good look at the role of a teacher. As a teacher, that person has a lot of power [the power of persuasion] and utilizes that power of alter how another person perceives things but if all a teacher says is, “Well, it’s the student’s fault”, then that’s an example of exercising power without responsibility and that doesn’t work well.
Some would say that you should never attribute to malice what can be attributed to blatant stupidity. However, if you get punched in the face, I’ll bet that you wouldn’t care less if it was due to malice or blatant stupidity.
Do you think that a Ph.D. adviser that’s spent all of their life in academia can paint an adequate picture of what the industrial world has to offer to the students they’re advising insofar as job searches go? Answer: No.
In [academic] research, professors put a lot of effort into getting their students to publish papers because, if you’re a professor, it would make you look good if your students publish papers it’ll get you reputation points. In contrast, how “proud” would that same professor feel if one of his students makes the decision to turn down the opportunity at a Harvard post-doc to teach at a community college?
I, Desmond Johnel Watson, am not an “academic”…..but I compete with them. Most employers and HR people haven’t met someone like me and if they did, it would be like meeting a space alien [or for better terms, a human being from another solar system that’s nurtured by a G-Class star, just like “ours”]. They wouldn’t know the first thing to do with me (which is a reason why it’s so difficult for them to find exactly where I would fit-in as far as employment in R&D goes). And that’s not entirely their fault. I highly doubt that “my” job exists as a Principal Research Engineer that’s doing “research for information retrieval that’s based on six-set points that are outside of the normal search parameters from which unstructured data can be retrieved starting from the smallest-point-to-largest-point”. To me, that sounds original. To an employer in the field of machine learning, it sounds oddly familiar. See, I’ve never applied for a job in which the employer was looking for an exact match in skill set. Rather, I had to sell my set of skills in a way of convincing the employer that my skills was indeed what they were looking for, despite the fact that they weren’t even aware of it.
The economic constraints that you have exist only if you make certain assumptions and if you question those assumptions then the problem disappears. An assumption would be that you have full-time professors. Economically, there is no reason that a Ph.D. cannot start off making $70,000 to $80,000 USD (a previous employer of mine started me off as their senior software engineer/research engineer at $75,000 USD and I do not have a Ph.D.) and, instead of working full-time, they’ll spend a few months out of a year working for a national lab–for nothing. Of course, there are structural reasons for why this seemingly never happens and it’s not because of a “lack of money” either. Perhaps, if we had institutions such as a “science corp”, something like the Army Reserves only with scientists. Color me perceptive but I believe that this is already underway–somewhat–and I can say this because Barry O (President Barack Obama) has been bleeding an institution over his cry for more mathematicians and scientists [here, in the United States]. All of that bellyaching over the need for more STEM graduates will amount to naught. One thing that the President of the United States continuously fails to realize is that it takes a certain amount of arrogance to think that the U.S. will ever compare to Russia in regards to having scientific fortitude. For most people, if you were to tell them that you aren’t the next Einstein, they’ll believe you. But if you were to tell these kids enrolled in universities, spread across the country today, majoring in particle physics that they are not going to be the next Einstein, a part of them will speak out from deep within them and respond, “Oh yes I am!” That kind of arrogance is deeply ingrained in the minds of a lot of “boy geniuses” that have been told explicitly and/or implicitly how they’re going to be the next Einstein since they’ve been in kindergarten. Is that really the kind of encouragement [read: nonsense] that we should be telling the current or the next generation in addition to them being falsely inspired to pursue a career in science all because of Star Wars and Star Trek?
Concurrently, the United States has 25.8% of the American workforce with college degrees. 1 out of every 4 workers here in the U.S. has a college degree while in European countries that ratio is about as low as 1 out of every 35 (Spain, specifically) to 1 out of every 25 in Germany and the United Kingdom. Apparently, the fact that the U.S. has four times to five times more college graduates than other countries doesn’t appear to be helping all that much. Just because someone wants to go to college doesn’t mean that they should go. I can bear direct witness to this. While I was pursuing a post-secondary education, I would attend classes in which I’d be surrounded by peers whom should’ve never been allowed to set foot on a college campus. They were not worthy of the pursuit of “higher learning”. They did not work to be there. All they did was take out a student loan.
Again, how many American workers are there? 255 million, correct? That’s 25.8%. So what about other countries?
- 4.7% have degrees in the United Kingdom
- 4.6% have degrees in Germany
- 3.6% have degrees in France
- 3.1% have degrees in Spain
Putting things into perspective, there are over 65, 790,000 people in the U.S. with college degrees. But when it comes to a country like Germany, for example, the population of that country is 81, 770,000. There are more people in the U.S. with college degrees than the entire population of the United Kingdom (62,232,000). I’m sure some moron will read more into that and think that those here in the U.S. are more “educated” than elsewhere. That is a false assumption and dare I say that no U.S. college graduate is capable of competing globally (I’m speaking from more of an observably economical standpoint and not necessarily from the perspective of “intelligence”)–and more so–they can barely compete with me, Desmond Johnel Watson–and I do not possess a college degree. Aside from that, you have to look at things such as employment from an economical perspective. If the economy is horrendous, then you’re on your own as far as the “importance” of your college degree. Seriously. In situations such as those, you’ll have trouble finding a job even with the credentials of having a “perfect degree” (no such thing actually). It’s strange that on one hand you have this glorification of self-sacrifice but on the other hand people that end up getting paid less for more work somehow end up with less prestige. Let’s look at Einstein for a moment, shall we? I find it quite interesting to know that what Einstein did in order to find out why working in a patent office “made” him so happy. That happiness largely derived from him having job security, a reasonable amount of prestige as well as time to contemplate. However, once he started working at IAS he never had the chance to do anything of significant use anymore.
All of this STEM-cheerleading coming single-handedly from President Obama won’t cut it as far as maintaining Americans’ faux-lead in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Homegrown college graduates simply cannot compete globally. With millions of workers employed here in the United States, even as we head full-speed into 2013 and beyond, and with some of the so-called “smartest people in the world” who can’t even figure out how to keep a few hundred people gainfully employed in the aforementioned areas. Perhaps, it would be best for some to take a more in-depth look at the purpose behind the [technical] job interview. One thing that these college graduates [i.e., physics Ph.D.s, etc.] need to learn to expect is the fact that you will be asked questions that you will have absolutely no answer for. If you just so happen to have an answer their response to that will be to ask you an even harder question. What people need to understand is that in the technical field, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge you may possess but rather how you’ll react when you’re under pressure. Do what I do: learn how to become desensitized to failure. How many [technical] job interviews have I bombed? I’ve lost count. I’m at the point where I’m no longer scared of the reality of bombing an interview. The hell with “thinking positive”, what helps me in this day and age is “negative thinking”. My upbringing eases the bumps too. Unlike a few of my childhood friends, I wasn’t necessarily “pushed” by my mother to do good in school–I just chose to do so. A few of my childhood friends, however, were scared to death of failing–and by “failing”–I’m referring to the goal posts that were firmly placed in their minds by their parents’ constant chastisement that they masqueraded around as “positive reinforcement”. To me, this is how the method of brainwashing takes effect, especially at an early age. Parents, teachers, ministers, local politicians (politicians in general, i.e. President Barack Obama) and the like have, in a sense, “engineered” the mindset of my [and the current] generation into thinking that academic achievement is the gold cup that all should pursue. A study of critical theory can be useful because it talks about the subtle ways that the power structures can have you feeling about certain things.
One thing about me though is that I like to set the goals for myself extremely high–so high, that it is presumably impossible to reach them. The idea that “..you don’t deserve anything if you aren’t smart” is something that’s been drilled into the mindsets of people these days by the system. At some point, a person will come to the realization that they’ll have no other choice but to rebel against that notion. There needs to be an understanding of what’s known as the Bayesian selection effect. People that have better experience in academia will end up as academics; people that have better experience in industrial research will end up working in an industrial capacity.
Research is a good thing because you really don’t know what is useful or what is not useful. There is value in doing something that no one else is doing. If you are the only person in the world that’s doing research on the nuclear properties of magnesium and you’re able to come up with something then you are the world’s number one expert on it.
For me, the “good” news is that starting my own company is something that physicists, engineers and biotech professionals do most of the time. Of course, starting a company or non-profit organization is the “easy” part; running a company or non-profit organization is the hard part, which brings finance into the equation. I’m not rich nor wealthy but in the absolute interest of Hexagon Lavish, I don’t think of a billion dollars as that much money and if the game was to try and convince someone to hand me one billion dollars to conduct research for Hexagon Lavish projects it would be seemingly difficult instead of flat-out impossible. The first step would be to find someone that has one billion dollars and isn’t afraid of investing in Hexagon Lavish. Also, I know what I’m getting into and with that said, being the head of a research center, institute, laboratory, etc., wouldn’t be ideal for me since conducting research is my primary focus. The head of a research center, facility, institute, laboratory, etc., is basically no different than a secretary, no more than your typical fundraiser….a salesman, to be exact. The head of a research center, facility, institute, laboratory, etc., has the job of practically setting up an environment that’ll be copacetic for those that will be working there, doing the real research. I can have more influence and power in a big corporation than I ever could in academia.
There is no variance or statistics in my world because I only have one live to life. I guess, it’s just like quantum mechanics. “What are the chances of X?” I think that is a meaningless question and people should consider not thinking in ways that would result in that type of question being asked. I do not think in terms of “average cases” since thinking about “average cases” can get you into a heap of mess. When the government comes and asks you for data they have no care in the world for the “average cases” because the “average cases” are without definition. Rather, they’ll have you describe the worst case and see if you’re in a position to survive that sort of ordeal and if you were to tell them that you won’t have to worry about the worst case scenario due to a probability of that happening being low–you’ll be on the receiving end of a variety of dirty looks. One thing that you have to be aware of is that in a lot of situations, decisions have already been made for you and there’s really nothing you can do about it. People are given the illusion that what they say or do matters. It’s a pretty standard bureaucratic trick in placing responsibility in people that have no power–at all–so that you can remove responsibility from those that actually have power. It’s all a matter of realizing when others have made the decisions and what you do does not make a difference. That realization is part and parcel of you focusing your energy on the things that can make a difference.
The most interesting things [read: jobs] to do in engineering (and physics) currently do not exist. Perhaps, there’s something that can be done about that.