Oral History Transcript — Dr. Peter Glaser
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Interview with Dr. Peter Glaser
Peter Glaser; September 13, 1994
ABSTRACT: Some of the topics discussed include: his Jewish childhood and early education in Czechoslovakia; his family's escape from the Nazi takeover; his education as an engineer in England; fighting with the Czech army during World War II; his return to Czechoslovakia after the war; his emigration to the U.S. where he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Columbia University; his employment as a consulting engineer at D. Little in Cambridge, Mass. where he spent his career; his resolve to obey the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm;" Cryogenic insulation; lunar surface research and experiments; von Braun rocket team; space solar power; thermal imaging; Krakatit (the book).
TranscriptSession I | Session II | Session III | Session IV | Session V | Session VI | Session VII | Session VIII | Session IX | Session X | Session XI | Session XII | Session XIII | Session XIV
Elder:This is September 13, 1994. Another interview with Peter Glaser, by John Elder. And I have one question left over from when we talked about Krakatit last time. I wondered afterwards, you said you had been surprised, or, was startled, or was very intrigued by the idea of wireless transmission, but wasn't that — that was known by then, wasn't there?
Glaser:Oh it was. But you see, what I — it wasn't known to me by — when I really read Krakatit, it was known since, I think 1887 or something, when Hertz [?] made his first experiment. Therefore, it — what surprised me that Capek used it in his book, which means he must have studied the first nuclear testers thing — [phone rings]
Glaser:And I think that's — and to me, it was news. You know, I had not been aware of it. I knew about wireless radio I didn't know about wireless power transmission.
Elder:Yeah. Okay. I looked — at the library, I looked at a book called Thermal Insulation Systems.
Elder:Remember? With great fondness?
Glaser:Yes, yes, yes.
Elder:So, I was going to ask you something just about the experience of writing that book —
Elder:— or being part of a group that wrote that book.
Elder:I'm not — it's not quite clear.
Glaser:It was a man from the National Bureau of Standards who was working with me on this book. And the book was basically the outgrowth of my work with solar furnaces and the arc imagining furnaces to study thermal behavior of materials and do something that we, at that time, didn't know how to do any other way. Lasers had not been perfected and I guess, the laser was invented while I was on the fifth and Towns was on the sixth floor, in Pupin, Columbia. So, there was no way to heat materials in air. And, yes, you could heat materials to high temperatures in a, you know, neutral atmosphere, but doing things in air just wasn't possible at those high temperatures. So, I think that was partly as the purpose of this whole exercise.
Elder:I see. What was it like? Did you actually do the writing, or some of the writing?
Glaser:No. It was a compilation of various papers in addition to a paper that I had in there, where I shared my — what I knew about the subs and we had, you know, really been successful.
Elder:Not the — I'm not talking about the — we might be talking about different books.
Glaser:Oh, thermal imagining, you mean —
Elder:Not the Thermal Imagining Techniques?
Glaser:That's — now that's the one that I was thinking you meant.
Elder:Yeah. Oh, no, the other one.
Glaser:The Thermal Protection, that —
Glaser:Thermal Insulations, yes. Well, that was the work that we did both at cryogenic temperature and then the re-entry stuff.
Glaser:So, again, that was the outgrowth of work of work that we did at Arthur D. Little, and there were a number of conferences on the — thermal protection at the time was a very active field, because we didn't have all of our ducks in a row. And thermal protection both at very high temperatures and very low temperatures came into the play, and the thermal imagining was, of course, on the on the high temperature side. And the cryogenic insulations at the low temperature. We worked very much on powder insulation as well, and you remember one of my technology transfer projects was to use that knowledge applied to refrigerators for the Whirlpool Corporation.
Elder:Mm-Hum. How did you come to write that book?
Glaser:You know, I wish I could tell you. I mean honestly I don't remember. I think it was probably that there was not any compilation of papers and things about it, and so I took it upon myself to do the job, because I felt it isn't enough to just do the work, if you can't communicate to, you know, the college, which we discussed before.
Glaser:People — the exchange of information is critical to advances in a field. And, you know, I'm digressing for a minute in prog at — in the castle, there is a street of tiny little houses, you know there are small rooms. And that's where the out [?] chemists [?] were. And it's — the street is for, I don't know, about 200 yards long, I mean, that's about the length. And throughout chemists were trying to transmute, you know, base metal into gold. But that was the objective, and as far as I was concerned, that was certainly unimportant. What really happened is all these out chemists, and they were in, you know, dressed in out-landish costumes, and, but they were closed society, that was really the beginning of chemistry as we know it today. And therefore, their contribution was in the process of looking for the gold, they really struck diamonds, because they were able to really develop the rudimentary understanding of chemistry. And that's why I felt that unless you put some of these ideas together, and that's what I've done in the various things that I've been involved with.
Glaser:Knowing that the out chemists looking for gold, like looking for the best re-entry material, really helped us do a lot of other things as well. So, I think it's the applications of certain things which are unintended and unexpected that we would become important. I'm sure the out chemists had no idea they were laying the basis for chemistry. And, in a way, when I started to work with solar furnaces, I didn't know that I was working basically on subjects which may well have a very important impact on the future global energy demands. Meeting these demands in ways which allow us to deal with it.
Glaser:And if you listen to the Cairo Conference discussions, it's obvious that we have not yet found a way to reduce population growth in any acceptable manner, either to the Vatican and the Moslems, and sustainable development. In all of them, the rhetoric really misses the point because the key is economic development. And the only way we will do economic development is having energy. And I just received a paper — I don't have it — from Professor Duncan. He is the director of the Institute for Energy and Man, in Colorado. And, essentially, he revisited the projection of "When has oil, gas, and coal usage peaked?" And there was a very well-known man by the — Hubbard — I think I mentioned him before, at the Department of Interior. And he projected that coal would last us well into the 21st Century. Well, with these revised figures, we have passed the peak in oil production in '84, and gas in '90, and coal just about now. And it's on the down slope, therefore, all of the energy resources which we now use are going to disappear at an exponential rate, as the population grows. And what do you put in its place is the open question. Is it nuclear power? Is it fusion power? And I believe it will be solar energy. So, I think those are some real issues that come out of this, as we look for gold.
Glaser:So, the book that I wrote had the same — on The Solar Power Satellite — had the same object to sort of put a few things together, and invite a number of people to contribute their thoughts so that there is a compendium that people can start to read and begin to understand that there's something cooking here. Just as [???]
Elder:Was it difficult to do?
Elder:Did you have to fill in a lot of pieces that you, personally, didn't know that much about?
Glaser:Oh sure. In this solar power — in every one of these books, it's not what you know, it's who you know. And that's these colleges in each of these — and there are people who know a great deal about a narrow subject. Like, you know what the Russians have done. Well, we didn't even know they were working on it. So it was very interesting. Then the whole — there was a chapter on the legal and regulatory framework, you know, there are people who specialize in this, and so on, so you have to put all of these pieces together so that it comes out of thing, well, you know, all the technical, economic, and societal issues are being repressed. And the publishers are after me to work on a second addition. So —
Elder:Well, there are a couple of things I wanted to ask.
Elder:I read through a lot of that book just to — partly just so I would know something about what I was asking you about, to see what was there, and there was one thing in it that just struck me as — that might be interesting. I wonder what was behind it. There was a thing that said, "Although at present only a few thermal conductivity tests are standard. Efforts are being —" for example, the so and so method.
Elder:"Efforts are being made to standardize them, particularly in the range of cryogenic temperatures."
Elder:Now, was that —
Glaser:That's what I was working on.
Elder:— part of the — let's say, the experience of doing your research, was —
Glaser:Yeah. You see —
Elder:— these words were standardized and you had to do something about it?
Glaser:— my thesis, you recall, was on Thermal Properties Measurement. And there was an ASTM standard at, sort of, room temperatures, you know, for buildings, textiles, and so on, but none of these temperature extremes. In fact, there was no apparatus to measure the behavior at cryogenic temperatures. And until you have a method which if other people do the similar thing, get similar results, you don't have a standard method, because if, you know, in another country they make a measurement, but they have a different apparatus, they get a different result, then you have to argue, "Well, who's right? Who's wrong?" And it's the standardization of measurement, which is why we have — we had a National Bureau of Standards, now, it's National Institute of Standards and Technology in Niece.
Glaser:I think that's absolutely crucial to the advancement of technology, dissolve such an institution as NIST [?] or NBS used to be. None of these measurements can really be done. Now the contributions that we made, and the person who worked with me was Igor Black at Arthur D. Little, we constructed a thermal conductivity apparatus, which became sort of the standard for making measurements on multi-layer insulation is what your used to this day for cryogenic insulation in the space program. So, I think that was a repeatable method, and people could understand how, you know, what's happening, it wasn't a mystery how you got the result.
Glaser:And those control and temperature measurements could be made. And in fact, it's being used to this day.
Elder:Well, I'm curious myself, when you can't, and you've got no way of measuring something. It's so cold that nothing that you know about can measure it, at what point do you decide that something is measuring it correctly?
Glaser:Well, you had a way of saying, "If I designed a measurement apparatus, and I do my analysis correctly, and I come up with results, I can tell where the spurious heat flow goes, I have it instrumented." If I, you know, it's just as well as if you designed computers, how do you know that the numbers coming out are correct?
Elder:It soon, because you'd do — there's something you can test without a computer.
Glaser:Well, what we did, of course, the — we tested materials and then we actually used it, and then you can calculate how much heat flows in and out and that way, you can then check the thermal conductivity, and if the apparatus gives you results, which, with practical application that is in the a reasonable agreement, you know you're on the right track. I mean that's — you know, I was actually on an ASTM committee for thermal conductivity measurements, because I felt that was important, so I became aware of this.
Glaser:That's how engineering is done. In other words if you can't measure it, you ain't got nothing, if you can't make repeatable measurements from one laboratory to the next, or if you can say what this material is like, and then develop another material and say it's better, when they say it's better, they have proof that it's better. They don't just guess at it.
Glaser:And I think that's how you make advances in technology. And that's the agreement, that's why there's not only American Standard Institute, there is International Standard Organization, all these guys are continually talking, and it doesn't matter what language you talk, because the technology is international. There's no boundary.
Glaser:And I think that's what I enjoyed about this field. There are no boundaries.
Elder:Well, I'm glad I asked that. Because that's a — that's just one of those parts of research that you — if you're not in it, you never think about.
Glaser:Yeah, without standards, you can't do engineering. You know, how would you design an airplane if you don't have standards? I mean for metal fatigue. How would you design a building with is earthquake resistant? You know, and learn from earth — the next earthquake; you know, unfortunately, the next aircraft disaster. We only learn by example.
Elder:Mm. Somewhat related — well, I guess it was related in my head but, I remember in a couple of the papers I read, there were people I think from ADL who had contributed and they acknowledged you as having been very helpful to them, or something. And I began to wonder what was the experience you had of managing other people doing research?
Glaser:Well, you know, I started doing it alone in Columbia, and then I realized that to be a lone investigator, particularly in the fields that I have been interested in, is next to impossible because I can't be an expert in everything. And therefore, most of the new technology you have to have teams of people. Each one having a specialized function and contribution to make, and if there isn't, you know, one person that can say "I did it all myself." You know, the lone inventor, hell, Edison wasn't a lone inventor, he had a slew of people, each one doing whatever, he may have had some idea of what he wanted to do, and then the others, sort of, the jigsaw puzzle makers, essentially, solvers did it. I think today the idea of the lone developer, you know, is just not on, it's we work in teams because you have to have, you know, specialists in materials and instrumentation, in applied mathematics, and computers. Whatever you want to choose, by the time you get to a big problem you've got a hell of a big team. And therefore, if you want to do something, which is not just something that you can do alone, it isn't enough to just be a technologist. You have to have the means to work with people to, you know, assist them to the extent to be a listening post, to transfer knowledge and make sure things are written down. You know, there's a whole process.
Glaser:Which is absolutely essential, and this was what we do at Arthur D. Little, that we have a team which develops new products.
Elder:Well, did anyone teach you this process?
Glaser:There are books you can read, but in the end it's like dancing. You know, you can read books about dancing, or singing, but until you start singing or dancing or whatever, it's awfully tough to imagine all the ways that you're going do it. It's like imagining playing a piano; it's not going to happen. You have to do it. And you have to have the chance to do it, which I had at Arthur D. Little, for many years. And I feel the chance of managing such a team is to be able to be human. You know, the idea that you're the big boss, forget it, that just doesn't work at all. And each person has a different need in terms of level of communication support, you know, and sometimes people make mistakes and you have to point that out, and do that under constructive manners, so that instead of becoming angry at you, they will say, "Gee, I guess now I know what I really have to do." But that's part of the game.
Elder:Did you make any blunders along the way?
Glaser:Oh, yeah, of course. You know, but that's the learning process I had to go through, you know, you don't pick this up in one day or one week or one year.
Elder:Do you remember anything particular that you — an experience that you learned from that didn't go right?
Glaser:Yeah, one experience that I felt was — you know, I thought I had explained what we had to do, and there were two guys who were supposed to it. And I was working also on — you know, typically I worked on several projects simultaneously.
Glaser:And I sort of let them do their thing, and then we had a sort of milestone, report — you know, the things that we do.
Glaser:And I realized that these guys have gone off on a terrible tangent. And I really couldn't blame them, because I really should have been after them and seen what they were doing, and said, "Fellows, this is not the way I think we're going to get that from here. You've got to do it this way." So it was really my fault, although they had — they didn't read very carefully what was supposed to be done, the milestones, and so on. Which happens.
Glaser:You know, if you like that, what I am a great believer in, is to get the teams together and, you know, talk among each other, so that — I'm sure you do the same thing at your place. If you don't hit, you're going to have problems. Predictably.
Elder:Did you have any people who were examples? I mean, I've had to learn some of these things too, but I can't say anybody ever tried to teach me.
Glaser:The best teaching is by doing in those things. You know, it's a — I mean, if you work in an engineering group, it's not a university involvement. I mean, things are done according to schedules and budgets, and you know, written things and so on. You, essentially, pick it up. I don't think going to Harvard yearning MBA —
Elder:No, but before you were — before that you were the leader of any team, you must have been —
Glaser:Oh yes I was.
Elder:— in a team with somebody else who would be leading.
Elder:And watched what they did.
Glaser:Each person, each manager, has a style of their own. Some are very autocratic, which, in my view is bound to fail. Because people will do things under duress only up to a point. And those managers usually don't last very long. So, I think, you know, the whole management philosophy is, you know, there are lots of books written about it, and now people understand what it takes to do teamwork. Has fancy names, you know, but yeah. I — for example, the quality field that I remember was zero defects, and quality circles, and DQM. You know what I mean. It's always somewhat similar stuff, but that's closed in different worlds.
Elder:Well, what was the first time that you were responsible for what other people were going to do?
Glaser:It was basically on that program where we looked at the moon, that was my project, and various people, you know, designed the vacuum chambers, instrumentation, and so on.
Elder:So, were you nervous about aspect of it?
Glaser:I was too busy to become nervous. I knew what I was doing, you know, and I had an overview of the whole project, and I knew what the customer wanted, so it — it was an enjoyable experience.
Elder:There weren't any doubts?
Glaser:No. And it worked.
Elder:Hum. Sometimes the pe — when I have to do these things, the people get ahead of me, I think, then they'll say, "What shall I do next?" "I don't know. I didn't even know you should do what you did. You were right, but I didn't even know it."
Glaser:Well, it — I'm a great believer in talking, you know, and having lunch. Lunch is the most important time. You know, we have sandwiches together in a room and people have a chance to talk and listen to each other, talk to each other.
Elder:Well, as a consultant are you going to miss that side of things? Or will you still be doing it?
Glaser:Well, I'm still a consultant, and I've — you know, at Arthur D. Little, after age 70 you become a consultant. So, I expect to — I've worked with other people and I don't have to do as much as I used to. What people want from me is was it, "Knowledge comes, knowledge goes, wisdom stays." That's what they're after.
Elder:I hope so. I hope it does.
Elder:I had another thing here. Okay, I see what it is. Well, another book that I was looking at was Space Technology Transfer of Developing Nations.
Elder:Which I thought was fun.
Glaser:Did you find — you found it?
Elder:Well, that's — I think probably that's easier to find in a sense, because it's — because it's a government document.
Glaser:Yeah. I didn't know they'd still have it.
Elder:They had it at the Boston Library.
Elder:I don't know if they have it — I know that, like the Harvard Science Library has a lot of those NASA things, and they didn't have it in a catalog though, but it's possible they have it.
Glaser:Well, this I feel was a very successful project. We were asked to look at how can developing countries utilize a very advanced technology? And so we said, "Well, we've got to have a country." And Brazil seemed to us to be the country that first of all there's a lot of stuff, and we had an office there who could find out you know, what the hell —
Elder:Did NASA ask Arthur D. Little to do it?
Glaser:Oh, we had — I had a contract from NASA —
Glaser:— to do that. From the Office of Technology Transfer.
Elder:And how did you — how did this happen to come to you?
Glaser:Oh, it — I think it was a competition I would think. And we all went in proposal and they liked it.
Elder:Did you write the proposal?
Glaser:Yeah. You know, again, there were two or three people working with me. And —
Elder:How did you come to be assigned to that?
Glaser:It was my idea to do it. At my level you don't get assigned, you know, it's —
Glaser:I do things because I think it’s worthwhile doing, and as long as it comes out okay, that's fine. It's a very autonomous — consultants like in a law firm it's [???] of time.
Elder:You just knew about this request that they were making, and you just —
Glaser:Well, I knew the people in the Technology Transfer Office, you know, they are people I've visited and talked with, and they were saying, "Gee, you know, why don't we do something like this?" And, I said, "That's great!" And I wrote them a little piece of something or other, and, "Well, that will do." The request for proposal, and that's what they did, and then I worked on it. And we chose Brazil because it's a country that we know well, there's a lot of stuff known about it. And the interesting thing is we were enjoying not telling any Brazilians so go to Brazil. It was strictly a thought experiment. What if this — now because we knew Brazil, that's why we could do it. And there wasn't a National Academy panel that took this report and say, "That's very good stuff." And in the end they did tell the Brazilians, but I was no longer in — I wasn't a transfer agent for them.
Glaser:Now what interested me —
Elder:It said, and there was a list in that book of all the — well, there seemed to be lots of Brazilian contacts that you used.
Glaser:Yeah, we had them, but very often we didn't tell them why we were talking to them.
Glaser:They really didn't know the context. And what — the thing that was very inter — ...with whom we had contact, really didn't know the context of our discussions. And several of these people were on our staff, because we had an office in Sal Palera [?], and so it was very useful, but what really interested me is that here we were telling the Brazilians in theory what all they could do, and then they actually did it.
Glaser:And I had nothing to do with that at all. But it's interesting to me that Brazil, today, is — you might not guess it, number five of all nations of the world in space.
Elder:By what standard? [laughs]
Glaser:Number of satellites, number of launches, number of people. So they're very much — I think from the developing country's point of view, they're one of the — you know, if you take the space faring nations, they're pretty close to the top. Now, I can't take credit that this report would have really sparked — I think it was one of the things that probably sparked an interest, and certainly, the remote sensing is what they're doing very well and that was something that I know at the time was very interested in. And later on, I, of course, worked with this man at ABC in Washington, and I wrote a paper which was published by the National Academy of Sciences, in their journal. It dealt with remote sensing for developing countries. And the fact that at that time the manufacturers of these satellites were restricted in terms of how much you could see. We had the technology to — and as I always said — to see how number of goatees in Mr. Crewchefs [?] mouth, but we were restricted to what you can see in spotty mange [?].
Glaser:I knew these people very well also. You know, it's talked about ten meters minimum. Maximum intense of what you could see.
Elder:When was this? That you wrote this?
Glaser:I'd have to look it up in my — I have a list of things. I think that was somewhere in the '80s.
Elder:Okay. What's AB —
Glaser:I — the paper, I have it someplace, and I can find it for you, perhaps, if you're interested. But it was basically — our idea was that if you want to really have an open sky — which is what Eisenhower's talking about — you could have what we called a meteor sat. That was this guy at ABC I worked with, and rather than sending somebody to Somalia to see what the hell's happening. The satellite will tell you what's happening. So that you could — anywhere else in the world, report on insurrections, you know, natural disasters, fires, and what have you. With that kind of remote sensing as well as rescue and, you know that opens up a whole host of possibilities.
Glaser:American Broadcasting Company.
Glaser:The Washington office in ABC had a guy there who was very interested in it.
Elder:Oh. Why were involved in the project at ISU this year?
Glaser:No, I was not.
Elder:No, it was last year.
Glaser:Yeah. I was not. You know this —
Elder:Global Warming and all that.
Glaser:Yeah. These are all ideas which sort of sprung up later on, and the idea that this man from ABC had an eye essentially supported this, was to try and see how we can except — we found that you get [???] into a legal hassle if you want to see too much. And it's not just us, the developing countries don't want to have anybody looking over their shoulders and seeing things which they don't know about. Therefore, you would have a commercial advantage by knowing that there's going to be a drought, because you could tell the early stages, and therefore, you buy the grains, or whatever their produce at lower prices, and buy a lot of it, because you know coffee's going to go up in price. So, there's some very difficult questions that have to be resolved when you know what — you're playing sort of God a little bit, by knowing what's happening.
Elder:Like having a time machine, could be.
Glaser:Yeah, because you know before these people, and that if you can tell what's going to happen to coffee beans, and I go to the commodity market and I place my orders for delivery X months hence, I can become a rather rich man, at the expense of the Brazilians, let's say. So, I think there are some checks and balances which have to be worked out and that's why the United Nations come in. You know, the UN and the Committee For The Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and the — as Arthur Clark calls it, the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or really the pieces of outer space.
Elder:Well, there were some interesting things in that book. Those details that I wanted to ask about.
Elder:There was a part where you said — well, somebody said —
Glaser:The man who worked with me was fellow called Jolkovksy. He was at Arthur D. Little at the time.
Glaser:Yes. A very nice guy. He left Arthur D. Little, wanted to become an entrepreneur, and the last time I heard, he was producing frames for pictures. I don't know what he's doing today; I haven't seen him in long time. Very nice guy.
Elder:Does that mean he's succeeded or failed?
Glaser:I don't know. I couldn't tell you.
Elder:Oh yes, okay. At one point it says, "Thus to facilitate the matching of information with needs, we developed a working vocabulary and a set of rules and relationships, among the various program contributors, that would enable the latter to convey and judge new concepts and the usefulness of new technology."
Glaser:Mm-Hum. Mm-Hum. That's a very important issue. How do you have a common language with people who don't understand technologies? And I would go much further than that. That language should be taught in every journalism class. Because people in the — newspaper reporters, cannot possibly have an understanding of everything, you know, they have two hours to write the article. And very often they get it all fouled up, because they don't have a common language. I mean, what you read in newspapers about your own field, you know darned well, it's very often far from being correct. I don't blame the journalists; it's just that the communication system is inadequate. Their language — what they understand — if I have an interview with you and you're a journalist, about solar powered satellites, he's going to hear for the first time certain words, he doesn't know what the hell they really mean, he can't look it up in a dictionary. So how do you communicate in an interview, which may last at the most an hour? And he's out there —
Elder:I would say you do your homework before you get there, but that's —
Glaser:Well, they don't have much time.
Elder:Well, I don't think that the hand of God comes down and says, "You have to write things in a hurry."
Glaser:But they always do.
Elder:I mean, they do, but I —
Glaser:You know, there was an article —
Elder:It doesn't have to be that way, I don't think.
Glaser:There was an article in the Wall Street Journal which I felt really, they should be ashamed of. It was on the concept of the Hale Aircraft, some man who — it was August 29th, of this year, in the Journal, I don't have the article with me, but you know, this guy who wrote the article had no idea what he was writing about, I don't know where he got his information from — the wrong information from. He did call me. I sent him stuff. I don't see he ever read it. You know, he talked about this aircraft being — and there's an entrepreneur who's now doing something in it, and that's why the Sky Plane — or whatever it's called. And he talked about, you know, how dangerous the beamer, the row skies, you know, what it's like in the microwave [???]. I mean, you know, they really ought to be ashamed. And it's really that — that the Wall Street Journal knows not enough to at least ask somebody and make such idiotic statements. It was just beyond belief. And that's the problem. A lot of the things we read, which looks like very authentic, and authoritative, is way off base. And that's a problem for technology. And therefore, when we transfer technology, we've discussed how you do it. Now, the journalism schools have to learn it, because, otherwise, these people who become journalists of various newspapers, when it comes to technical subjects, just write nonsense.
Elder:Well, I'm interested in the experience that you had in this group, developing this language. How did you do it? How did you — what were the experiences that made realize that you had — that there was something that was wrong?
Glaser:Yeah. Because, you know, regardless of that — I of course don't speak Portuguese, and so on — but their understanding of certain technical concepts is diametrically opposed, and you have to first say, "Well, what do you mean when you say, 'light'? Is it a bright light, is a dim light?" You know, I mean, you have to take the sort of very basic things, and start talking about it as a common language. And I don't know how to do this in a global sense. It's tough, particularly English to Portuguese, which is must be even tougher English to Chinese or whatever. Or English to Rwandan. I don't know what the heck they speak there, but their dialect. And that, I think, is a major obstacle to international understanding. Because the same words mean different things in different languages with different information skilled. And it's true of the technical world, which is easier.
Elder:But even so?
Glaser:But even so.
Elder:Well, so what were the booby traps?
Glaser:Well, that we had to show that when we talked about certain possibilities.
Glaser:To say, well, you know, these are possibilities, you don't just go into a store and buy those stuff. You have to adapt it. In order to adapt it, you have to have trained people and the Brazilians essentially did that. They learned that they have to have trained people in order to do those satellites. In order to do remote sensing. In order to supply — sell these things in competition with US firms, essentially. That's what they're doing. So they learned. Because they — and advanced. You know, there's type one, type two, type three, and one [???] and type four, or whatever it is. So, Brazil, among developing countries is, you know, very high up. So I think this language is a key. It's a key in technology and it's key in policy, it's key in politics. You know, the Haitian Generals obviously don't understand what Clinton is telling them. Or they don't want to, I don't know what the heck — you know. So, this is a very complex issue, technology transfer, and one which is not something you undertake very — you know, you have to do deliberate efforts to do it. And I remember in the solar business, there was a lot of, you know, glory in papers written about solar cookers, so the local people wouldn't burn wood and, you know, renew the landscapes. Because they have to have fires to cook their meals or they go hungry. So the solar cookers were developed. Which is ideal. However, in this technology transfer, several basic things were left out. One was, you have to understand how people live. Those people work in on their fields during the day, and their meal is at night, in the evening. There ain't no sun. They don't stop working the field to cook their meal. The solar cooker worked beautifully at mid-day, but didn't work by they time they'd come home. So what the hell is the solar cooker good? You're not going to change people's habits, or you know, the whole makeup of their society. It has to fit, therefore solar cookers are a lousy transfer. Unless you do some miraculous thing and get a group of people together who'll do the cooking during mid-day, and then warm it up — well, whatever they do. But it's not accepted. There are solar water heaters, you see. That works beautifully, because the sun shines during the day, heats up the water, then you can have a bath in the evening. In Israel it's — I see one or two companies make solar water heaters, if you sit in a hotel room as I did in Jerusalem, and you overlook the roofs of Jerusalem, you can tell where the Arabs live, and where the Jews live. Because they all use the same water heater, you know, tanks, and one is Hebrew and the other is Arabic. And that's how you can tell who lives where. Same technology. And that was a very successful technology transfer. But not solar cookers. Nobody can use them in these countries. So technology transfer, as simple as it may sound, is a very complex issue. And that's what we tried to point out.
Elder:Hum. Well, there was another line there that interested me. I guess it just struck a chord with me. It was, "Efficient technology transfer is not an accidental or haphazard occurrence."
Elder:And I wondered if, though, there might have to be some haphazardness in the sense of thinking there are certain things that are obvious — this obviously could be used as a —
Glaser:But you see the solar cooker was not efficient. I mean people —
Elder:That was a mistake.
Glaser:It was a mistake. Didn't think through what the people did. What the family did.
Elder:But there's the opposite case, where something that was meant for this use here —
Elder:— and a completely use there, and it would take a kind of haphazard —
Glaser:For example, you know rubber tires —
Elder:— thinking to think of it.
Glaser:— are very much in demand, used tires. Do you know why?
Elder:I know in South Africa they use them to punish informers. But I don't think that's what you mean.
Glaser:Rubber tires are used to make sandals.
Glaser:That's a replacement for leather, which is very expensive. So I think there are all sorts of stories about this. And, you know, this is one sentence, now you can write a book.
Glaser:It's the howdy do efficient to technology transfer. And we've learned quite a bit.
Elder:Isn't that also a kind of an element of playfulness, or just trying to think — just thinking up things to see —
Elder:— the things that didn't make sense right off the bat, but might work out. Like the rubber tire, I mean, who would think logically, "Rubber tires, oh. Of course we can use them for shoes."? You see, you would never logically arrive at that conclusion.
Glaser:Well, one of the things that — and I don't know how it came about — one of the things somebody might have said, "Jeepers, I can make these in — you know, if it goes on the car, and it doesn't slip, perhaps I can use it on my feet." You see, there's a story on each one of these.
Glaser:Which you can — you can write a book about solar cookers, water heaters, sandals, etc. etc… If you go through all the — it's a very interesting field, and I was delighted to have the chance to do this technology transfer to Brazil.
Elder:It was sort of — it was interesting to me too, because it was so different than all the other work they've done.
Glaser:But you see, it's still — I've been doing technology transfer of what is wireless power transmission. Because I've done all this, I could see how wireless power transmission could utilize terrestrial [???] energy sources, and then extraterrestrial energy resources. And I think all of that your mind is more attuned to seeing connections.
Glaser:It's like some people know how to do crossword puzzles very easily.
Elder:Indeed. Okay. Well, those —
Elder:Yeah. Those are the questions I had on those books.
Elder:I'll just lay it there.
Glaser:— was impressed by the reading that you did for this.
Elder:Well, when we got to a different stage here, where I have to do more homework. Well, that's quite interesting, I don't know — what I don't know is, how representative, what I'm finding is — you know, I find what I find, but I don't know what I'm not finding. Because I haven't got a bibliography.
Glaser:Yeah. I have a bibliography. I haven't brought it up to date. If that's of interest to you, I'll try and get you a copy of the earlier ones.
Elder:Yeah I would be. It would be helpful.
Glaser:Well, my problem is, how do I remember all of this stuff myself?
Elder:Yeah. You have to think. You have to have a certain kind of obsessive mind and keep lists right from the start. And then you have to go back. But I find that people who — people who do a lot of things don't seem to be that obsessed with keeping track of what they did.
Glaser:Now, I mean —
Elder:They just keep doing it.
Glaser:That would be a full-time job to just keep track of all the things. I have to rely on my memory to a large extent. I do have a list of all the papers and all the talks that I've given. So that's at least a way, and I do have copies of things that I've presented.
Elder:Well, another topic — well, I'd say, quite different — that I was going to ask about, I don't know if you want to start it now, or save it for another time, was, well the whole non-working side of life throughout this. Say from your graduation into the '60s here. I mean, you know, you're family, and you have the arrival of children, and whatever else —
Glaser:Well, I think about mother working, and essentially allowing me to go to school.
Glaser:And then I worked, and, of course, I didn't get — I get paid about $30.00 a week in my first job. It seemed like a hell of a lot of money to me. And then I had a fellowship at Columbia, and then I started work at Arthur D. Little. I think it's — I always felt that are several parts to any person. And one is the person that is known to the family, those to the immediate family, and you know, what — they don't care what you do in your work, basically, they don't understand, very often, what you are doing with condustriac [?]. And then it's not the thing that you discuss.
Glaser:What is important, you know, in Yiddish the word mensch. You know, that's the important thing. Depending upon your religious inclination, you know, that you have certain — I believe the word is mitzvah — requirements being placed on you. And if you find that you can meet those requirements, life is somewhat easier. Because you have guideposts. And I tried to follow guidepost. It's very hard to just come up with all this yourself, if you're not — you know, there are people who've been working at this for ten thousand years or more, and you might as well get some benefit from their thinking. So, I felt it's useful, and that has been guiding me in a lot of my work. And my motto, as you know, is do no harm, and have no regrets. And my relationship with my family both immediate and, you know, extended, has always been very positive. So, it's — that has continued throughout my life. I don't have any family member with whom I have not been on very good terms.
Glaser:Even some of my aunts who were not too — particularly when they were in their '90s, and not as easy.
Elder:Yeah. I have a grandmother there now.
Glaser:Well, you know, it's —.
Elder:She earned a lot of good will for 80 years before she became —
Glaser:Yeah, and you know, and the hardest thing on my family was, of course, at Arthur D. Little, was travel. Because clients are never, hardly ever in Boston. So I did, you know, about 25 percent of the time I wasn't home. So my wife had to bring up children more on their own than I would have liked, but thank God our children have turned out to be just great, and just wonderful children. And grandchildren.
Elder:Was it ever a question whether this travel was tolerable or not? That maybe you should do something different?
Glaser:Well, actually, my wife realized that there were three parts to the travel. That one is partly I could make a living. That was a rather important feature of that.
Glaser:Because I had to get clients and, you know, do all the contacts. Second, it allowed me to see, and have a broader horizon, and therefore I could become more valuable to the firm. And to have contacts all over the world. And thirdly, I tried to do the travel as little as I could, and you know, I didn't stay weekends and go skiing in Colorado, even if I was in Boulder. And to try and do it more at my inconvenience, but to reduce inconvenience in the family.
Glaser:So, you know, I'm surely not the only one who's learned how to deal with travel. I think God for new technologies. I think I mentioned to you, when I'm now asked to go to Hawaii, I'll say, "I'll do a video conference." I'll just go to Cambridge for that. Arthur D. Little will have its own facility. So, you know, it's — I mean, that's the new world. Why in the world do you sit on an airplane for X hours, to go to Hawaii, which is torture, 10 hours of [???]. Jerusalem, 14 hours. You know, I mean, it doesn't make sense. So use — we have the technology now to be together by a wireless radio.
Glaser:And TV. So, I think that helped along. So the traveling salesman, you know, this famous theater piece, I think is an anachronism, or should be. Because that's not the way things are done. You now have order takers by computer.
Glaser:I remember we had one man who was selling these helium liquefiers throughout the world, and he traveled all over the world, to Japan, and [???] where every physics department had to have one for solid states. And I admired him. The only language he spoke was English. He managed with English. How? I don't — I'll never know. I just saw him — when was it? Tuesday night we had a get together. No, Monday night. Anyhow, that's —. So each person has to have his priorities straight.
Elder:I kind of agree to that. Well, maybe that's a good place to leave it. There's a — how are we doing? Yeah, just about at the end of the tape.