Friday, July 19, 2013

My Hero

I don't really have any heroes. I have a theory that there is a direct correlation between fame and assholes, but the question is are assholes attracted to fame, or does fame bring out the asshole that is in each of us? Or is that even the right question?
Portraits in Emmett Brown's Lab

I think the biggest mistake made in the movie Back To The Future was that Doc Brown enshrined the pictures of Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. All of them were kind of douches. Isaac, we now know, was a bit of a pscyhopath. Franklin, a shameless self-promoter, slagged off his working class buddies the second he earned some serious coin. Edison, well, took way too much credit for practically everything his workers did, and couldn't admit to (as most successful people can't) the immensely huge role that luck and accident played in his successes. They get all puffed up and turn into autocrats. Einstein, to a lesser extent, was a douche. He treated his wife, Mileva Marić, like shit, and could never admit he was wrong about quantum mechanics. Worse still, he convinced a lot of people not to believe in quantum mechanics, which meant that a lot of brain power went to waste on pointless hidden variable theories. (Thankfully, people like John Bell could turn the tables on their own beliefs, but that's not the point).

So, I don't really have heroes, but if I did have portraits on the wall, they might be Oliver Evans, Antoine Lavoisier,  Hans Bethe, and Richard Feynman. Nice guys, everyone, and who says nice guys finish last?

Feynman took time out for anyone... pretty much anyone, and had the good sense to know that he was his own biggest fool. Bethe likewise, would discuss even the most ludicrous ideas with anyone, regardless of their reputation or stature or lack thereof. (Oh, true, Bethe was midwife to the H-bomb, but you can't have everything). Both Bethe and Feynman are regular guys, patient teachers, open to discussion, but can back up their criticisms or dismissals of ideas with solid arguments. These qualities are something I notice I lack and wish to aspire to.

Lavoisier, I admire for his constant determination. Lavoisier managed to make modern observations within the realm of chemistry with the most primitive of equipment. He almost single-handedly turned alchemy into chemistry. True, he was a rich guy using state of the art (for the time) stuff, but that's all the more reason to admire him. Despite his riches, he knew he was fortunate, and so made the most use of his time and efforts. Too often, I will give up on a task, not because it is hard, but because it looks hard. I really am, more often than not, a lazy and slovenly mo. I really need to work on that.

And Oliver Evans? Talk about ahead of his time! Long before that asshole, that enormous asshole, that militantly, ignorantly, pridefully enormous asshole Henry Ford appeared on the scene, there was Oliver Evans. Evans created and installed the world's first automatic production line (flour mills). Evans built the first wheeled vehicle to move under its own power. Evans built the first amphibious vehicle. And, Evans built and manufactured the first effective high pressure steam engine.

What do I take from Oliver? Aside from being a true mechanical genius, he is surrounded at every turn by thieves, frauds, and mountebanks - leaches who either take credit, or profit from his work without recompense. He persevered, established a family going in the form of the Mars Works, a steam engineering plant in Pittsburgh, PA.

Oh, right! Almost forgot. This wax didn't make it. The plaster/silica mold for glass broke apart under my handling. I suppose, were I patient and perseverating, I could make another, better one:

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