Challenging Convention, One Sunday At A Time
By stern on Dec 20, 2004
In my on-going recovery reading room, I recently
Kathryn Bertine's funny and revealing memoir
of her life as a professional figure skater,
"All The Sundays Yet To Come". Shocking to some,
I put Bertine's book in my personal list of
top five sports books
in terms of the non-obvious lesson within. Before
googling, here are the other four that made the cut (subject to change and based
on most memory, portions of which are clouded by painkillers):
So what does a hockey playing middle aged engineer find in a figure skating book, except perhaps the logical converse of Robby Benson in "Ice Castles" (groan later, there's a message here....). While pursuing her dream of becoming a professional figure skater, Kathryn Bertine bound herself to increasingly lower-caliber productions, ending up in a trailer-portable show in South America. While on tour, she found that the emphasis in her chosen career had shifted from athelticism and skating ability to her appearance - and most particularly, her weight. Bertine developed a full-blown eating disorder, the roots of which she explores in some fantastically funny and moving flashbacks to her beginnings on blades. The title of the book is derived from the ritualistic Sunday weigh-in that served as Bertine's eating and purging metronome.
What's the lesson? We cannot be happy with how others see us, only with the way we need to see ourselves. Others' perceptions of right and wrong should never starve us of that which we need to grow, mentally or physically.
What I've always found fun about technology is the ability to take these other perceptions of how to solve a problem and turn them upside down. Two decades ago minor debates raged about theoretical speed limits in CMOS chips, because distributing clean clock signals with various tree structures was becoming a problem. The challenge to conventional wisdom came from those who talked to their analog design brethren and started using phase-locked loops (PLL) circuits to distribute clock signals, and we've seen CPU clock rates jump from single-digit megahertz to gigahertz rates with the recent velocity of oil prices over those same two decades. About the same time, conventional thinking held that specialized memory systems were required for various kinds of language support, especially involving garbage collection. You earn one gold star if you remember Symbolics hardware support for LISP.
Continued investment in R&D is the food of engineering. Certainly, svelte, lean balance sheets devoid of R&D expenses may look appealing to some, but that model leads to engineering disorders. R&D investment is what creates opportunities, markets, and communities where clever ideas can flourish. Many have criticized Sun for continuing its pace of R&D spending during leaner times, but here we are talking about Solaris 10 and a host of its slick features, chip multi-threading, and the results of our own Princeton offense - team members Fujitsu and AMD to whom to pass the ball. R&D ensures that there are a lot of Sun-days yet to come.