28 Days of Inspiration – Day 17

Paul Baran

baran
Paul Baran  ibiblio.org/pioneers/baran.html

Paul Baran was an immigrant, an engineer, and a really bright guy.  He joined the RAND Corporation in 1959 and by the account in Walter Issacson’s The Innovators was still trying to figure out what was his life’s mission.

As he was looking through military requests for products, he seized upon building a communication system capable of surviving a nuclear strike and realized that successful completion of such a system could actually avoid nuclear war, by reducing the likelihood of a first strike.  Follow the logic:

If either the US or USSR believed that war was imminent, they may be inclined as to strike first to knock out communication hubs of the other to avoid their communications from being struck.  In other words, he realized the most important strategic element in a catastrophic war would be means of communication.  If there was a system capable of surviving a strike, or strikes, then one side or the other would be less likely to preemptively attack to avoid their communications being cut.

At this time, American military communications used high frequency connections which could be put out of action for many hours or permanently disabled by a nuclear attack. Baran realized that a distributed relay node architecture – one where messages were broken up into pieces, sent along different routes and pieced back together – would created a system that would not be easily disrupted and would be scalable.

How visionary was this?  Consider this anecdote from the Rand Corporation website:

In an interview with Wired magazine, Baran discussed his vision of how the new technology might be used. “Around December 1966, I presented a paper at the American Marketing Association called ‘Marketing in the Year 2000.’ I described push-and-pull communications and how we’re going to do our shopping via a television set and a virtual department store. If you want to buy a drill, you click on Hardware and that shows Tools and you click on that and go deeper.”

Now, I said he was a pretty bright guy, and to wit, it took some time to conceive, test, and demonstrate proof of concept but that was accomplished by 1960.  He spent the better part of the 1960’s trying to convince industry of the idea.  Sometimes entrenched interests are harder to conquer than technological challenges.

This work basically set forth the structure under which data – think email – is distributed through the modern internet today.  Baran helped set the building blocks of how we get work accomplished today with his desire to stop nuclear annihilation.  Consider for a moment how important this would have been to someone who emigrated from Poland – then controlled by the Soviet Union and indeed the part of Poland from which he came had actually been annexed by the Soviet Union and is today part of Belarus.

Indeed his personal mission was so important to him that he resisted efforts to have his work classified because in his conception, it would work best if the Soviets had technology that would ensure their communications remained in tact as well.  No one would have an incentive to launch a first strike.

Baran stands, to me, for the power of one person taking stock of his talents and knowing where his moral compass lies and finding a connection in the two.  Sometimes, just sometimes, having a larger meaning leads to amazing things.  Over a half century later, his work (and the work of others to be sure) allows you to communicate instantly across the globe, but could arguably have prevented nuclear war as well.  Consider that for a bit.

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28 Days of Inspiration – Day 16

The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired “Team With A Vision,” Tina Luce and Helen Forte.

The organizations I’ve chosen to highlight to this point, the O’Connell Valor Fund and the New England Spahtens’ “Rucksgiving,” are small organizations with no overhead spreading inspiration and good works by sheer force of individual volunteerism.  The MAB on the other hand is a larger organization, but the “Team With A Vision” program demonstrates what their mission is right down to the core – empowering those with disabilities to accomplish their goals.  It turns out, though, that the program does more than empower those with disabilities.

Team with a Vision pairs vision impaired runners with sighted partners to assist them in running road races, of specific note the Boston Marathon but other races as well.  The case stories are incredibly empowering.

Consider the case of Tina Luce.  She started running with a timer and a treadmill, and when paired with a sighted partner to run with her, she was able to complete a recent 10k. For Helen Forte, her partner, it gave the opportunity to make a difference.  It’s this pairing of needs and interests that creates such a powerful combination.  What could possibly be more powerful than enabling anothers’ independence to meet their goals?

I’m such a fan of programs and organizations that work in this way, giving back in equal measure to those the program is designed to assist and those who do the assisting; they enrich the lives of all who participate.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 15

Rucksgiving and the New England Spahtens

Over the past year, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to run 50 Obstacle Races by age 50…which then morphed into 46 Races in 2016 for my 46 years…which has again morphed into getting as many done this year as I can.  As part of this evolution, I’ve connected with some wonderful people along the way, see here Joel Chavez the man representing Day 3 of the 28 Days.

One group which which I’ve connected is the New England Spahtens, a local obstacle course racing (OCR) enthusiasts team that has over time morphed (not unlike my race list, nor would that be coincidental to my own list) into other races, fitness activities, and social events.  After all, it’s a team, right?

OCR is an interesting community.  It’s designed as an individual challenge, but we’re social animals and want to engage these pursuits with other similarly minded folk.  I’ve noticed several “teams” of this kind in various places: joining is optional, there are no membership fees, no one gets cut, be as active or passive as you want.  If you want to register for a race, but the team hasn’t been formed, form it.  You can confidentially register for a race, join/create the team and you’ll have the support of others even if you don’t know them.  They’re there to support you, perhaps help you over an obstacle with the sole purpose of sharing the sport and making it accessible to as many as who want to join.

For the past two years, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Spahtens marshal as many volunteers as they can, loaded with donations and carry  ruck sacks stuffed with the gear around a route through Boston to carry donations to the less fortunate. This isn’t an administratively heavy endeavor (read the blog post, linked to here – this is a general call to arms, some pre-planning, and general strategy on the fly).  There are no news crews covering the story, no administrative costs.  Just teams of people caring for others, while living the purpose of the group – health and fitness.  It’s a marriage of the mission and vision of healthy activity, and supporting others.  And it’s ridiculously inspirational.

 

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 14

Because I Said I Would

Alex Sheen  wanted to pay tribute to his deceased father — and that turned into an international non-profit movement. To memorialize his father, he passed out cards at his father’s funeral that said “because I said I would” and he encouraged friends and family to write down promises. “Just live by what you say” from mundane to life-altering commitments.  On his blog, he promised to mail 10 Promise Cards to anyone who asked for them. This turned out to be a very expensive endeavor (just paying for postage!).

He has distributed roughly 4.5 million Promise Cards in the past four years.  His movement has inspired individuals, organizations, schools and communities. It even brought one person to admit he had killed a man. His Promise Card simply said “‘I will take responsibility for what I have done…’ because I said I would.”Because I Said I Would tells the stories of people following through on the promises they made just because they said they would, albeit perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Mr. Sheen.

One of my favorite things is the TED Talks.  15 minutes or so of well crafted on point story telling.  Here are three such presentations from the Because I Said I Would website that preach the message.  Although my own commitment to building a better person this year was not influenced by his movement, we followed a similar path: we said we were going to do it, built a plan, and followed through just because we said we would.  While the 2016 World Series, one side representing Cleveland, represents the hope and aspirations of two cities, Alex represented three Cleveland women by walking the state of Ohio.

Sheen quit a successful & well-paying  management job in technology to pursue  the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept throughout the world.

28 Days Of Inspiration – Day 13

The 2016 World Series

Of the major sports in the United States, baseball is arguably the most storied.  The championship series is clearly the oldest of the major championships. I’ve discussed in this blog before that for sports fans, even perhaps non-sports fans as well, history matters.  The 1903 World Series was the start of America’s love affair with the game, and we’ve been watching the storyline in a few different incarnations more or less since…you know, except for 1904…and 1994.

We watched in 2004 as the Boston Red Sox improbably beat the New York Yankees in 7-games to advance to the World Series after going down in the series 3-0 to win their first World Championship since 1918.  The next year, the Chicago White Sox won their first World Series since 1917…of course, they had the opportunity to win the 1919 World Series, but there was this little gambling scandal and all.

This of course left two franchises with a World Series drought: The Cleveland Indians and the team from the Northside of Chicago, the Cubs.

Now, the Indians had the opportunity in 1997, taking a little upstart team from Florida into extra innings in Game 7, but in the end lost their bid on an RBI single. AS an aside, I remember listening to that game driving home from the 1997 MLS Cup Championship game in Washington DC.  If the Red Sox couldn’t break their curse, the Indians shouldn’t be able to, and lo, they weren’t.

The Cubs have had an even more tortured history with the baseball championship.  The lore includes the curse of the billy goat, curing the teams’ chances in the 1945 World Series…where they haven’t been since.

So here we are – 2016.  68 years since the Cleveland Indians won the World Series; 108 years since the Cubs were World Champions.  By the end of this series, one of these historic franchises will have broken a curse, will accomplish something that most people alive today have never seen and may perhaps launch a new dynasty.  In 2003, if you had told me after the Red Sox got bounced from the ALCS, that they will win three times in the next ten years, I wouldn’t have believed it.

The amazing story and the guaranteed heartache the fans of one of these teams will feel, the guaranteed elation, the feeling that nothing will remotely come close just cannot be over-estimated.  I know – I’ve lived that feeling as a Red Sox fan.  Cleveland and Chicago are both 4 wins away from erasing generations of disappointment and despair.

THIS is what inspiration looks like to me as a sports fan.  Generations coming together.  The common connections within these cities.  The comradery felt – even if it’s for ten days or so – has no equal, and is understood by only a few.  It’s a disappointing season for Yankees fans if they don’t win it all.  For fans of one of these two teams, it will be adulation.  For fans of both of these teams, it will be a season to remember.

And that to me is inspiring.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 12

Foster Parents

There are some 653,000 children in the foster care system or waiting for adoption in the United States. These are the most vulnerable people in our society.

Foster care is a system in which a minor child has been placed into a ward, certified, or private home of a caregiver, referred to as a “foster parent”. The placement of the child is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. The institution, group home or foster parent is compensated for expenses.

These people willingly accept someone elses’ kids into their homes, see to it that they get to school, that they’re safe from making harmful choices they may otherwise be making.  It’s a challenge – the kids often don’t want to be there, or if they are they test the rules of the house to be sure they’re really cared about.  They often don’t know how to make better choices.  Foster parents are truly people who are working to be the good they wish to see in the world.

No one is getting rich being a Foster parent.  In fact, they’re legally exposed: they’re responsible for the day to day care of this child, they have to ensure physical well being.  They’re opening their home up to the state to ensure they’re living up to their obligations.

They undergo background screens, go through over 70 hours of training, have their homes go through a home study process so they can care for someone else’s child.

They’re the people who are staying up all night when the foster child decides to take off overnight, they’re the ones taking the kid to the emergency room, they’re the ones who get the call from school.  All this for expense reimbursement.

Without foster parents, there are kids that won’t get a chance in life. Consider the statistics: 23,000 children simply aged out of the system in 2013. These kids have few social skills – 20% will wind up homeless after age 18 and 50% will be unemployed within six years.  Foster parents are sometimes the only chance these kids have.

It’s a remarkably selfless avocation with remarkably little reward.  Foster parents are literally society’s super heroes.

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 11

“Too Fat to Run” Julie Creffield

Julie is a marathon runner and has been for over ten years.  She’s also plus size – Size 18.  Her doctors told her she was too unfit to run after she pulled a muscle in her back. She was so inspired to prove the doctor wrong, three weeks later she ran the London Marathon and later founded a website “The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running” at toofattorun.co.uk.

The idea is to inspire people to get out and exercise.  Overweight people are particular risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke among other health concerns. Julie’s site is part running club, part blog, part motivational speaker booking agency.  She’s all about getting plus size women out and active, running for their health.

Yesterdays entry was about speed.  She’s actively reaching out to women to try out different techniques for increasing their running speed.  Consider this: instead of advising other plus size women they’re too unfit to be running, she’s encouraging them to be out there and active.  Not only active: faster. If they want to be.

I always say to women that are just starting out that your running speed doesn’t matter, the most important thing is to get out there as often as you can and to learn to enjoy the sport regardless of any improvements of speed or distance.

Its incredibly important to find empowerment when perhaps you’re feeling vulnerable.  The last thing someone needs to hear is that they can’t do something.  Here’s someone asking people to get out there, be active, and enjoy themselves. To continue to work toward their goals.  Consider this tidbit from the CDC: “Physical activity reduces risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.”

It’s more important to be active to reduce the risks of heart disease.  Julie is out there encouraging women to get out there and be active.