There is more than one way to lead a successful life. Some people have all the opportunity in the world laid out before them, and it never does them any good. Others have little more than the determination and desire they’ve dredged up within themselves, and that grit turns out to be the abrasive that smooths the path ahead.
Ronald McNair succeeded despite poverty, racism, and an education system designed to keep Black people down. He became an accidental revolutionary at the age of nine, when he broke the color barrier in his small South Carolina town via the public library. This act of defiance in pursuit of education would set the course for his relatively short but full life, which culminated in his career as a Space Shuttle mission specialist.
Rule-Breaker with a Slide Rule
Ronald McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina, the second of three sons, to Pearl and Carl McNair. His mother was a teacher, and encouraged his love of reading. Ronald’s father, Carl was an auto mechanic who never finished high school and always regretted it. Though the family was poor, Ron grew up surrounded by books, music, and support.
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It was World War II and scientists belonging to the Manhattan Project worked on calculations for the atomic bomb. Meanwhile, in one of the buildings, future Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was cracking the combination lock on a safe because doing so intrigued him. That’s as good a broad summary of Feynman as any: scientific integrity with curiosity driving both his work and his fun.
If you’ve heard of him in passing it may be because of his involvement on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster commission or maybe you’ve learned something from one of his many lectures preserved on YouTube. But did you know he also played with electronics as a kid, and almost became an electrical engineer?
He was the type of person whom you might sum up by saying that he had an interesting life. The problem is, you have to wonder how he fit it all into one lifetime, let alone one article. We’ll just have to let our own curiosity pick and choose what to say about this curious character.
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It isn’t really a book, but Richard Feynman’s Appendix to the Challenger Disaster Report is still definitely something you should read. It’s not particularly long, but it’s educational and relevant not just as an example of critical thinking in action, but as a reminder not to fool oneself; neither individually, nor on an organizational level. Sadly, while much was learned from the events leading to and surrounding the Challenger disaster, over thirty years later many of us can still find a lot of the same things to relate to in our own professional lives. There isn’t a single magic solution, because these problems are subtle and often masquerade as normal.
Feynman and the Challenger Disaster
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a Nobel Prize winning physicist and one of the best-known scientists of his time. In 1986 he somewhat reluctantly agreed to join the Rogers Commission, whose task was to investigate the Challenger disaster. The space shuttle Challenger had exploded a little more than a minute after launch, killing everyone on board. The commission’s job was to find out what had gone wrong and how it had happened, and figure out how to keep it from happening again.
Continue reading “Books You Should Read: Feynman’s Appendix To The Challenger Disaster Report”
[Autuin] created the most offensive video game ever. Inside a small cocktail arcade cabinet, he installed his own video game that recreates the experiences of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew on their last flight.
The build started off by picking up an old cocktail version of Space Zap from The Hackery, a neat little recycling place that turns old computers, monitors, and even old arcade machines into something useful again. After [Autuin] lugged his arcade machine back to his home base at Free Geek Vancouver.
After drooling over the 30-year-old circuitry, [Autuin] disassembled the old machine and installed a mint condition 19″ VGA monitor where an ancient black and white CRT once resided. The control panels replete with their comically large buttons were refurbished and connected to an Arduino and the whole shebang hooked up to a slightly outdated computer.
The real magic happened when [Autuin] coded his game. He created a few sprites from NASA archival footage and made a game where a shuttle takes off and is controllable by each player. As the most offensive video game ever, the space shuttle blows up shortly after launch, declaring ‘game over’ for both players.
[Autuin] will be showing off his new arcade game with a new bezel and cabinet graphics during Vancouver’s Eastside Culture Crawl this November. The game will probably be updated by then; we suggested editing the ‘time to explosion’ to T+73 seconds, but [Autuin] said he’s thinking of ways to make it even more awful.