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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Peter Glaser by John Elder on 1994 August 23,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
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).
This is August 23, 1994. I'm interviewing Peter Glaser, I'm John Elder. And we're going to first take up the subject of Krakatit. So, now I would be interested, if you could tell me in more detail, why this book struck you so much? Especially if you're able to remember how it struck you when you — well, at various ages, such as when you first read it, or maybe subsequent times that you've read it, not know — you know, only at that age, and not what you subsequently [???] think about it? [Transcribers note: Krakatit is spelled both 'kit' and 'kat' on word list. Used 'kat' in this interview.]
I read the book probably for the first time in the '46 or '47, I've forgotten when. And I was struck with two things, that here was the main character, Prokop, who was an engineer, and who essentially lived in difficult circumstances, and I was living at that time in similar difficult circumstances too, so — and how he was able to think of certain ways of in the chemistry, or whatever he was trying to do there, was sort of a way of looking at new things, that he was certainly, in terms of the story, ahead of his time, and was able to come up with some totally new understanding. Unfortunately, sharing it with his friends got him into difficulties. And his friends, by and large, thought not much of his ideas, and it was only later on when sort of a mysterious character came into the picture, who must have been sent by a nefarious combine.
That they realized what the significance is of his invention. Prokop really had no ambitions to control it in some way that would be harmful, but it became clear in the story that this nefarious combine had other kind of objectives. And the book essentially can be read at several levels. One is the nefarious schemes that organizations will go to in order to obtain advantages for control for whatever, people, money, whatever a grand [?] iceman [?]. And the other one is looking for the benefits of the particular work that he was describing. I'm not familiar enough with his real background. Why did he write it?
My guess is that he must have been aware of Nikola Tesla's work, which was obviously well known at the time, and weaving that part into his story, and being able to understand the development of a highly explosive device with enormous consequences, would be possibly very harmful. And that, essentially then combined with some of his, I guess, philosophy of being able to contain it in ways which is beneficial. Led him to go through all the various trials and tribulations in the various characters that appear and disappear, and the — on a technical — from the technical point of view, that was the first time I became aware of that essentially wireless power transmission, could be used in some ways that were simply not described in the book for detail how it would be done, but would have a global effect. And that is what Nikola Tesla was, of course, talking about as well. So, that was my first, if you like, meeting with the concept of global wireless power transmissions on that level, it interested me as well, and I felt that the Capek tried to indicate that any of these ideas could be used for good as well as for bad, and that Prokop was sort of a dual — in a dual personality. One is an inventor and all of that, and then realizing that this may be misused and I think the ending is interesting, if I recall, because Krakatit essentially had him as if he was in dreamland, and you know, in the end when he hitches a ride and the old man etcetera, has — could be explained in various ways. And essentially as a positive spirit who then tries to say, "Well, it’s okay, you go and just sleep." So, I think that it has many facets to it, and what — to me — it meant that I think for the first time — at least as far as I was aware, a substance was described, which later on I realized could have been a nuclear explosive devises and that he essentially was able to — and that's Capek — was able to, in 1924, project what some of the consequences would be if such a substance would actually be developed. Again, I'm not sure Capek was not a physicist, therefore he must have gotten this from someplace, but remember the idea of radium and some was Curie, which was way before. And, of course, Curie obtained the pitch plan from Yakenstall [?] is a town on the border of Bohemia where it comes from, and there were mines, and the fact there was a famous big hotel where you went to have these mud baths, which, of course, I'm sure, exposed people to some level of radiation, and he must have realized that this had some connection. How he got this, but he obviously knew about Curie, because it happened sort of next door.
And he was able to weave this all together. Several of his books, I think, are absolutely marvelous science fiction stories, and, you know, I remember one was a play the War of the Insects, I mean, that's — my son has play in prog [?]. So, that book — and I haven't really seen anybody doing a Ph.D. thesis on it, which it probably would merit today, looking at the various aspects of it, and translating it into today's terms.
I'm — I didn't realize that you read it as an adult. I thought you were a kid when you read it.
Oh no. No, no. I — that was not the — children didn't — were not expected to read Krakatit. That was a novel for adults.
Was it famous at the time? Or at all well-known?
Well, I knew about.
I know he was, but —
He was. He still is, of course, but I don't know that — I can't really tell you. Being an engineer, I didn't do comparative literature, you know? But it was well known in the sense, and I don't even remember where I first got a hold of the book.
That's what I was going to ask you next.
How did you come to read it?
Let me see, I have it someplace here, and perhaps it'll tell me when it was published. It was published 45 thousand in 1947. So, I must have gotten this particular — and you see, it's very nicely bound, and all that. I think I was able to get the bound copy and it was — that was the first page, you know, the title page.
Ah. Does it have illustrations in it?
No. No illustrations. Nothing. And the — it's part of — there's a famous — it was 1948, at least that's when I thought I would have gotten it. By Frank Borivy [?], he was a well-known publisher. And was in — printed by Polygraphia in Berno [?], Maridia [?], and it cost 80 crowns. That's Czech.
Czechoslovakian crowns. Which actually — that's, you know, not an insignificant amount.
For a student.
For a student. I had a professor who, you know, was aware of nuclear things. That was around that time. So, you know, the bomb had exploded, and perhaps it was this that I heard about it from him, I just don't remember. But it fascinated me and as Edward [?] Eye [?] got out it, there's some way of moving energy by beams. You know, I'd never heard of that before.
That's interesting. Actually, one of the things that I thought —
You see, and I brought — I could bring only very few books with me.
So you brought that one.
I brought this one.
Do you remember re-reading it at different subsequent times, and having different impressions than you had had the first time?
I haven't be able to re-read it as, you know, in one sitting, but yes, I have come back to it. First of all, I — it is a way of keeping up my knowledge of Czech writing. And yes, one does get, at various intervals, some new insights into this. I'm sorry that I — that Karel Capek is not alive, because it would have been very interesting to have a discussion with him. How he came — why did he write it? I don't know. There must have been a reason.
He has a huge amount of output.
He'd probably — you probably could find out.
No — probably, if I would go and prog —
[both talking at the same time, can't understand what Elder says here]
Tons of letters.
I know. But I'm not a literary person, but it would be interesting to find what the reason was that he wrote it, and did he have anybody help him? Because this, you know, those ideas for a writer, particularly one who has so many ideas, are not easy to come by. Well, that's about all I can.
Hmm. There was a — there was something interesting that just to me, which I took a note of. This probably shouldn't be on the tape, but it will be. There was some part where he's talking to Anne and he's explaining — he's trying to explain to her, this understanding he — all sort of intuitive understanding of substances, and the explosiveness that's waiting in them.
He said, "he had to struggle hard with words —" you've probably never heard this in English.
No. No, never.
A strange experience, isn't it?
"There was a wrestling within him — there was wrestling within an enormous pride, but also a pain and shyness, and even when he spoke in terms of enterocoel numbers, Anne understood that something interior and humanly lacerated was taking place before her." Which struck me because that's my —
See, the way I would interpret this, he realized that he had come across something which had the power for both good and evil, and he didn't know which way it might go, and that — you know, I imagine, that Oppenheimer must have felt — I know Ed Teller, therefore I'm nearly sure Ed didn't quite have that reaction because he's very positive.
Well, you never know — you don't know that he never did.
You just know that he made up his mind at some point.
That doesn't mean —
But from what I read in Burt Oppenheimer, I would think that he might have done that.
It struck me because I thought it was the whole — it sort of expressed what I'm after when I do what I'm doing right now, which is to say, does whatever you're doing, it is what it is, and then this experience of it because you are a human being, and not a computer. So, whatever he talked about, which he probably didn't understand, she could see that it was a human being, and therefore it all meant something to him.
Besides what it — you know, meant as physics.
Yes. And I think that this in metaphysics here a spiritual part that certainly one cannot divorce, and one has to say, "Well, whatever one does is both for good and evil," and it's up to the person to make sure that it is for good rather than for evil. So, these are very difficult things to communicate. But I'm glad you had a chance to read it so that you now have an idea why I mention it.
Oh it's interesting. Yeah. And I could imagine while I was I reading it, being very — I had — you know, you don't didn't really say, but I come away with the impression that you were, you know, maybe 12 or 14 when you read it.
No, no, I was —
And I could imagine being very struck by it at such an early age, and then, subsequently, being [???] —
No, I —
— reading it that young.
— did not. I think I read it at the right age, because I had enough of understanding of what this meant, and how the person, Prokop, must have felt.
Okay. Well, there are two things. Let's see where's my — I —. One of the books that I looked at was the one on Aero-dynamically heated structures.
And a couple of the others, but I had a sort of a general question as I looked through these, these are a couple of conference things here, and the lunar surf — lunar surface layer —
— and the thermal imagining.
And probably others that doesn't happen to them. Are those them? In the early '60s. And I thought, "Well, you have — you must be somebody or you wouldn't be there." I mean, by this time you already were enough of an expert — enough of a recognized expert — to be chairing these conferences, and editing the proceedings of them. So, I was interested in your experience of getting from say, just out of graduate school, where you aren't anybody yet, as far as the world knows, to that stage and the — well, how it happened, how — what it was like, what you — or how you saw it at the time? Did it even seem that way? Maybe the way I'm putting it isn't how it seemed to you at all.
There's something objective there, they wouldn't have just picked anybody.
Remember that what I had done was of great interest to a lot of people to be able to heat substances in air at high temperatures, by means which were relatively straight forward. And aero-dynamically heated, you know, re-entry —
— was the key to us getting into space and back. And eventually—
Well back anyway.
Eventually getting the people back.
And thus, I recognized that this was a topic which should be of major interest to a whole group of aero-space technical people. And I was in a position of knowing a lot of these people, because, I told you, we sold some 30 to, you know, all these laboratories were involved, so they knew my name, and I don't now remember the details. How come I had this problem saying — what I — I discuss it with people as a technical professional society and they said, you know, there's a lot of this work on going, and yet there's no place you can go and read about it, so wouldn't it be a good idea to get people together? And they said, "Gee, that's a good idea, why don't you do it?" You know, manila [?] you have a suggestion you have the risks that take you and say, "Gee, that's nice, why, good idea." And I think that's how these things came about.
Hmm. What do you remember about the experience of putting one of these together? And there's a whole other kind of activity other than being a scientists.
Well, I've done it, you know, now, several times, and it's highly stressful, because the steps that you have to go through, you first have to make sure that you have a grasp of the subject. Because if you don't, how would you know who to invite? And who would be interested in coming?
So, it's really this college as I mentioned it. You have to be a member of that college, and a mafia, or whatever name you want to give it. And each one of these subjects that I deal with has a college associated. As I went along there were different groups of people who worked together and, you know, like today I spent an hour on the phone talking to David Criswell about the possibility of doing things on the moon, and you know, so on.
Okay. Let me interrupt for a second.
I have never — I wanted to make sure — [tape off then back on]
Okay, so —
Plus you have to maybe find out the people that —
Now I also was in organization —
— that you haven't met up with, but —
Yeah. At Arthur D. Little —
— they're there.
— where I had the opportunity to do this, it was con — you know, I brought in business. And so if you now let purely from a business point of view, it brought the name of Arthur D. Little and people whom we did business with, and therefore, conferences helped establish the name of Arthur D. Little in that field. So, I had support at home base —
— to do this. You know, they didn't expect me to spend my full time on it, but, you know, I could do this thing, this secretarial support, or other support as needed. And I couldn't have done this all alone because usually you have to have a correspondence with people you invite. You have to ask them to come, and then they'll "What do you want me to say?" [sic]. So then you have to tell them what you want them to them — what they ought to be thinking about. And essentially, that's the way these technical conferences are arranged to this day. And there usually has to be one guy who is sort of the moving force behind it, who thinks it's important, and that others encourage him, "Yea, go ahead, we're right behind you."
Yeah. Well, now —
And then, you know, you find out, well, who should get invitations, and it's put in some technical journals. And then people come and, you know, we know how to arrange conferences. And I had people helping me who knew how to arrange the nitty-gritty, you know, the breakfast, the lunch.
And who were those people?
From Arthur D. Little. And sometimes from the technical societies.
So was there a — was there some moment where you held your breath and it all came together?
Oh, you always do. I mean, the worst thing is that you've now, you know, launched your ship, and you want to see if it has a hole in it, we'll sink. So there are some very anxious moment because you never know. The speakers will be very unhappy if you they just have half a dozen people listening to them. So, it's the up-front preparation is critical for a successful conference.
Do you remember any of the tense moments?
Oh yes. You know, the worst is a lot of called, we had — not at this meeting, there was still another meeting — we had invited, you know a well-known personage, and the guy had to go to Washington because he was on some blooming national academy committee, and the president science advisor — I've forgotten what the deal — and now he couldn't come. So we had to really quick footwork find somebody who could take his place, and you know, thinks of that — it happens with every conference. I can't tell you what's going to go wrong, except something will. If it's anything that can go wrong it will.
So, arranging conferences are, you know, quite a task and a lot of people contribute to it, it isn't a one man show at all.
Well, I think it was — where'd my notes go? Why did they miss one in the — is this the one with the summaries at the end? Yeah.
Well, I haven't read this book since 19 whatever.
There was something that made me wonder if there hadn't been any —
I don't remember any specific problem with that conference though. Nothing horrendous happened.
But there was somebody who mentioned it — what seemed to be sort of a very mild way of mentioning that there might have been a lot of disagreement about something.
Oh, there's always —
And there still was —
— at the end.
I mean, conferences are not — it's — how should I say? A successful conference is somewhat similar when the president gets a bill passed through congress, you know, it's — they always say, nay-sayers, in fact, you want nay—sayers. You want — the worst thing is if everybody agrees, because then you don't make any progress. You don't want just everyone saying, "Yes, that's the way it is." You want to be able to find ways to generate good discussion.
Do people ever get people mad enough at each other that you have to do something about it?
I don't recall a single incident where this happened. There are some difficult moments when particular — I remember one meeting where there was sort of a gab-fly [?], you know, the only time you heard from him was — he was always in opposition, that guy. It was a solar energy meeting, and he was a very difficult disagreeable guy. And, you know, the worst thing is if you're debate him, because that's exactly what he wants, and usually comes out of left field and doesn't have all his facts straight. Sometimes, you know, the discussion is very important because if an author presents a paper and he has made a mistake, and there's somebody sharp enough to say, "Well, did you take into count such and such?" You know, that's what these meetings are for. And an intelligent person will say, "Yes, you know, you're right. I'm going to go back and find out." You know, I think that's partly the reason for having these meetings, because the author does his best to present his work, his case, but he's not saying that he's perfect. Only God is perfect, and therefore, any intelligent person has to be open to basically constructive criticism. And that's how you advance the state of the art. Not by everyone saying, "Yes, yes, yes." Somebody should say always, "Well have you thought about the possibility of such and such?" And I just happen to have a letter here which I got from the Director University of London Observatory, and I had a previous letter to him. Just to let you know positive aspects here. "Many thanks for your response to my inquiry on the subject of wireless power transmission and it's effect on radio astronomy." And I told him, "Well, fellows at the radio astronomy is going to be in trouble —
Takes a few seconds. Slow wind up here. That's probably okay.
Yeah. And, then here, I sent him a paper where I discussed effects on a strum Naples radio astronomy and optical, and he happens to be a chairman of a committee of International Committee for Scientific Union, which is what is effecting astronomers in terms of terrestrial activities.
And so he said, "Gee, you know, if you have to just sell power satellites, it will play havoc with our observation." And I said, "You're absolutely right, we'll probably never be able to do it in a way which reduce the background below what you need when you look out." And I said, "But then this is the least of your worries, because we live in a microwave fog, and things will go to hell in a hand basket, and you won't be able to do radio-astronomy on earth. And so, an optical astronomer, you've got problems too, because the seeing will be bad every place at night, and so that's why we are building space telescopes. So my recommendation in [???] years ago, was that rather than fight the problem I will build you radio astronomy telescope, and an optical telescope in the best place in the world, where you won't have these worries at all. And that's on the far side of the moon." And, you know, that — so they said, "Yeah, but who will pay for it?" You know, he writes here — by the way that was on the 10th of August, and "There's a General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union beginning next week at which airis [?] interest groups who we're meeting, including my own egg-sue [?] working group, let me give more thought to the potential hazard posed by these power proposals to both optical and radio astronomy." And then he writes, "I would comment that in my view there's much too facile [?] to argue that optical astronomy can be placed in space, and radio astronomy on the far side of the moon, are you really suggesting that the power program can absorb the cost of replacing ground based optical facilities in space?" [knock on door] Yeah? Woman: Hi. Elaine Sullivan? [door slams]
Somebody trying to sell [???] shipments. "Replacing ground based optical facility and keeping them renewed, man in operation. Please remember that you would not be simply appraising international [???] observing facilities, but also national and more locally based facilities as well. I'm not sure that the contribution to [???] charged by electricity bill they find favorably as consumers." And, of course, my argument is, it depends how important astronomy is to society, and the cost, if you supply power on a global scale, may be one percent of the cost of electricity. So, and if by doing this, you have to internalize external costs, and this is one. But the internalizing of the cost of global warming or the tropical forest disappear, I mean, those cost are enormous, and I guess those are some of the issues that, you know? And I'm glad that they're bringing it up and they're discussing it, because for the first time they will have to face the fact that in 20 or 30 or 40 years, they'll be out of business with radio astronomy and potentially optical. And that's why we're building space telescope, and that's why we can go to the moon to set up things which we're already doing here on earth. The large scale antennas that we've set up, I think in New Mexico, has a 30 kilometer long baselines, so we know how to do these things and to set them up on the moon you can you an eye, I don't know, whatever they want to look at with radio astronomy. So, being able to be in an intelligent group discussing this, there are pros and cons. And astronomers never thought about why this is good, bad, or indifferent. That's just an example —
— of a typical thing that one would have to expect in a meeting. And that's why you want to bring these things out. The worst is, if you allow Krakatit would go back and then have everything secrete, and then you'd say, "Well, look at it. What have I done?" You know, then all hell breaks loose. So, you have to, I think, be very open with both the positive and the negative issues, because the question that humanity always has to face up to, is what do we do in, not now, perhaps starting in 'X' years in order to deal with the issues of the next century. It takes that long, you know, it's like turning the Queen Mary around with a paddle boat.
So that's — does that help explain my view of why I have always felt conferences are essential? Particularly if you are in — working in new areas which are on the fore-front and I have to say that my interests has always been to be on the fore-front. I can do the other stuff out of text books, but there are other people who can probably do better me. So, I've always felt that my interest was to be on the cutting edge of various fields. And I was very lucky that I was working at an organization where this was possible.
What was it — what did you — well, what did you feel like at the end of the day at one of these conferences?
Exhausted. I mean, you're really on deck to — you know, one, two, three, [???], you know, because you've got to make sure that breakfast, you know, the technical parts are only one part, the other part is — people have to have a good time, you know. Even as far the room auto cold. And there's the audio and visual equipment. And there was the whole thing, and yes, there are other people who are supposed to take care of it, but sometimes it's not there. Particularly in hotels where they have union labor, which complicates matters somewhat. But by and large, I haven't had a disaster.
Did you ever — have you had any really exalted moments where something — where you said, "This is why I do this."?
Well, one happened in Chicago, this recent meeting. I arranged several of these sessions on wireless power transmission, and one of the persons I invited, who was Bill Brown [?], I think I mentioned him before.
Mm-Hum. Greg Marinade [?] talks.
Yeah. And Bill Brown, he and I discussed the demonstration because this was a place, these are people who know all about microwaves and beaming and all that, and so we made a demonstration of advanced technology for power beaming. Which he had worked on. And it was standing room only and here was a man, I'd say in his 70s, I don't know, 78. He drove with the equipment with his wife from here to Chicago. An amazing guy. And he essentially showed how this is real. This is — you know, there was a lot of discussion of various things. A lot of graphs, you know, the usual stuff. But here you saw there is a real thing, and I've discussed with some of my friends at NASA, "You know, what we ought to do, is persuade the Space Museum to get this —" and I also talked to the guy here at the Science Museum to have a demonstration of that. Because the public needs to become aware that we are not writing science fiction. And I brought you two photographs which just happened. I mentioned to you the International — the Institute of Space and Astronomical Science in Japan.
And they have decided exactly what I am talking about. The only way to get the public to see what's happening, you have to show that this is for real. And here's the photograph that's just happened, where this is the SPS2000 structure, of course, greatly reduced, it's a model, which works. There's the solar cells, and here's the things which create the beam. And here is the receiving antenna on the ground. And there's a model house, they're small scale. And it drives a little pump, you know, various —
Is this the sun here?
Yeah, that's the sun.
Do you see? So how do you show the public at large, children and grown-ups, that you know, all — we've got a sun, we've got solar cells, and we can now beam power, it's received over there, and it drives various things in that model home?
You don't — well, I guess you wouldn't want to. I was wondering if you'd rig it up in such a way that you see the beam?
No, you can't.
I mean, I know, you know, and —
No, you can't — you know, it's not like you blow smoke through a light beam.
The only think that you can show is if you have a microwave probe that there's something there.
Something happening. Oh yeah.
So, you see, it's that kind — that — and it's just — just happened.
This demonstration in Chicago, where — what — where was it exactly? Was it in a hotel?
It was the Sheraton Hotel.
What did they think when you brought this equipment in? Were they excited about it?
Nobody, you know? It was very in noxious, and you know, I mean, we said, "Look, there is a beam." Now these are people in the business, therefore, they know at the level that we are talking about, was we were beaming I think 30 up to 50 watts. [???] these guys were beaming a few watts. I mean, it's not a huge amount of power, and, you know, Bill Brown was walking in and out of the beam, and he's been doing that all of his life, you know, and he's 78, so he's a living example of the lack of biological effects — of health effects of power.
Not of genetic effects.
Yeah. Well, he's got children. So, that gives you a feel that you arrange various meetings which has certain objectives and, you know, it's really to share your knowledge with others, because a lone inventor is sort of what you could do in the 19th Century, but that's no longer feasible when we come, particularly to micro-engineering projects.
Did you have the experience of people — some really new idea coming out of the meeting right there? Like from people talking to each other?
Well, it's very hard to know. You know, it's like you put yeast into the thing and it takes time, but that's the only way a field can grow and develop, and it takes a lot of patients because these things, you know, I don't know how many conferences I've been arranging, you know, throughout the years. But it takes time to realize and forming a group of people who begin to understand, who can make contributions, who write papers, and all at once we can say, "Well, like we have a space power journal."
You know, I mean, that's enough that we can write a book about it now.
It has an identity.
It has an identity, exactly. And it's not just Peter Glaser saying it, it's the people in Japan, or Russia, or France, and all over the place doing it.
That's interesting. Well, I'm asking you some of these questions because I sort of — as a record, I want to have some record of the — well, just thought, you know, the life of a working scientist, or engineer, and the kind of things that you do and what it's like doing them.
You see, the one thing over these years —
It's just one of those things.
Yeah. Is also you have, most of these things don't happen in Boston. So, you know, your family has to be tolerant if you travel. And I'm at the stage where I was just asked would I go and give a lecture in Jerusalem, and I said, "No, I can't." It's just, you know, I do video conference and I don't have to physically be on an airplane and spend a week. As must as sometimes I want to go to Israel, but I've been there four times. And I'd rather, you know, not do things which at my age have a hell of a lot of physical and strenuous things. Like this meeting this year is a double A on the subject of powerless power transmission in Hawaii. And I said, "What the hell are you doing this in Hawaii for?" The American Institute of Aero-nomics and Asteroids. What the hell do we have to go to Hawaii to talk about that subject? Why can't we do it in Washington? So, don't ask me why, but it's going to be in Hawaii, so I said, "Well, I ain't going to go to Hawaii." So I arranged to a pre-conference with the group that will be doing this. There's the fact that they here at double-A now is willing to consider solar powered satellites, is going to be a step forward. And that's going to happen probably in November, and the meeting in Hawaii is in December. Well, the work is being done in the committee meeting in November, nothing what happens in Hawaii, and I don't understand why it has to be Hawaii, that's not the —
Because it's Hawaii.
That's, you know —.
Yeah. Well, when you first started in on this, did all of this travel kind of creep up on you?
Well, I — when you join a company like Arthur D. Little, our clients aren't in Cambridge.
You're a global company, and you have clients all over the globe to work in 56 countries.
Was that true when you started?
Not at the time, 56, but we were all — then General Gavin became president, that certainly enlarged our international activities. But, you know, we had — I don't know if I mentioned this cryogenics field as a sicilian liquefier.
Well, we had a man going around the world peddling these things. He peddled for 350 of those, so, in languages he never even spoke. So we had always an international outlook, and I know General Gavin has become, you know, a major thing. In fact, 50 percent of our business is international. So, Arthur D. Little and, I'm sure, many of our worthy competitors are in the same boat. We may have in one world, and that means that you have to go — if you want to do business. And I'm at the point of saying now, "I don't have to go, unless I really want to go."
Well was it — was there a — at the beginning, was it very exciting to think that you were —
Not — remember, I —
— somebody, somewhere needed?
I don't come from a —
Let's see, you had already traveled quite a bit, hadn't you?
No, to me, I've known —
It's not just to travel, but the idea that somebody somewhere else wants to talk to you.
Well, how should I say it? Latent [?] slides, very often it was a way of communicating. And remember, in the '60s and even '70s, communication was not that easy. You know, first of all, the phone wasn't — didn't have it so that you could punch buttons and have voice mails, you know, all that. Faxes, and that didn't — therefore communication was much more difficult in that sense. And letters took forever; Fed Ex didn't come until later. It wasn't utilized. So that communication with clients or with technical peers, was a much more difficult thing. Today, you have e-mail, you have fax, the whole [???] with communications.
That's the first time I've ever heard anyone say — in those days it was more difficult to communicate, talking about the '60s, or the '70s. It's already so different. That's the whole — I would say, you know, in the '40s or something, maybe.
No, I would think even in the '80s there were still problems with communications. Like as to make it as easy. Because, you know, you had to, you just couldn't do it. And I still have from my lunar days latent slides, which are used in the early '60s. You know, these big glass things. We had special projectors, where you had to had to have the operator moving things by hand and — and you haven't seen latent slides, I guess.
I have seen them, but I wouldn't have thought of seeing them at that point.
That was at meetings that's what you used. I'm sure that it was used at this conference we discussed. The latent slides were the way to show your slides. Overheads didn't come — you know, therefore the whole communications really didn't take off, I would think, until the mid-'80s. That's very recent, that you have fax — everybody has a fax. Even now I communicate with the Russians by fax because mail doesn't get there.
Yeah, me too.
You know, and so it's — and soon you'll be able to have computers talk to computers, and animation, and all this. CD-ROMs, and those things just didn't exist. We have the International Space University, in Barcelona.
Well, one of my friends was giving a lecture there, and he asked me for slides, and I said, "Sure." So, we sent him the disk. That's all he needed. So, I think the advances in communications.
It's primitive to send him the disks isn't it? You should FTPs between the two of you.
It will. Yeah, but you see in Europe, it's a bit more complicated.
But they have to get the global system, which, you know, in Europe, they still have — when I did this video tape, I had to do it in the European system, as opposed to the American. You can't — the two eye [?]. I remember the story that South America is 60 cycles, and we have 50. Or was it the other way around? No, we have 60.
No, we have 60.
And they have 50. And the reason is the Siemens wanted to have a monopoly in South America, and therefore, all of the machinery they sold to South America was 50 cycles. So, as these are business discussions, not technical. But the communication revolution is really the thing that makes it possible to talk about very complex things in this college. You know, what it took to take such pictures, well, I had done, you know, as soon as it was done, they sent it to me. This set, and they give me, you know, credit for these things. And this just beginning, eventually I'll have it instantaneous. So, I think the advances that's this invention, in genders will be enormous, because as we communicate new ideas. People will, if they have objection, we'll be able to "Gee, have you thought of this, or this, or this?" And it's all real-time. It isn't weeks or months. And you get together more or less to sort of have this personal contact, but once you know people, that personal contact — you know, I can —
You really have meeting in the minds. The bodies —
The bodies just don't count.
They're in the way. You know, today when I talk to people, we know each other. Like when I talked to Criswell this morning, well, I don't have to be in Houston.
You don't ever have to have met him, for that matter.
No, it's —
Not when we have video, you know, we see each other perhaps. I'm not sure that's necessary, you know, it would probably help. But I think that we need to bring the communications aspect because the fact that I cannot communicate with all my college mates, so to speak, instantaneously in Russia and Japan and England, and France. I mean, that's how ideas get, you know, formed and various things happen which would have taken much longer.
So, maybe it will be possible for people to do in a career what would have seemed to have taken 10 lifetimes earlier.
No, I look —
Just because there's much less —
Look at this — even in my career, in the last 40 years, I've done a lot of things, you know, which have been unthinkable. The fact that I have worked on the solar stuff, and the moon stuff, and the wireless power transmission, and, you know, EVA on the moon, and anything that is sort of on the fore-front. That's why I'm, you know, I don't see myself as being retired from the world, I may be retired from having being in my office at eight, but I can keep up with things, and eventually I'll have a fax, and you know, the whole panoply of modern things here, so I don't have to even go to my office, they can send me those things. And I think that's an important part of what I've been involved with. That's it's always been international. The subjects I work on, just like in Krakatit, he talked international things, it was in a European context. But international activities, I think, will be more and more coming to the fore, as we realize we live in one small village called Earth.
Well, that's interesting, I'm glad I brought that up. That's a whole side of things.
Sometime I also want to ask you, maybe this will be the time, if you ever [???]
Well, you let me know how fell about it.
We'll see if this is the — I don't know if this is the opportune moment or not, but it is something that interests me with anybody whose career is even maybe more than 20 years old. Is the arrival of computers into the world — I mean anybody whose career begins before computers — I'm interested in the experience of having them come in and not — again, what it seemed like as it was happening without looking back?
When I did, let's say, reports or papers, it was a painful thing because you had to white-out and cut by hand, and, you know, what you do on a computer was done by hand.
Oh yeah. I've been my career of writing papers goes back more than — long before computers.
And you know, you had to do all that, and now, you can essentially generate things much more easily. I am not computer literate. I think that there are two reasons, one is I never learned how to type, and second reason, I had excellent secretaries. And I couldn't justify the time I would have spent using a computer, because I had — there were part of my world, unless I could communicate, do all the things needed in a much more professional way with people who were professional.
And I didn't — you know, I would have taken at least twice or three times as long and I didn't do enough of it, if I — you know, I had people showing me computers, and I realized that I don't do enough of it, that I'd forget what F7 was.
Do you remember — you mean, you remember first encountering them?
Oh yes. The first time I encountered computer was at Columbia. I took course on celestial mechanics with Professor Eckert. And he's — there was something called Watson Laboratories. IBM Watson Lab.
And I took a course and part of the celestial mechanic things, we had to do fairly complex computations, and the laboratory had a card programming calculators and matrix inversion and you had to do your own wiring and that was plogs [?] I don't know if you have a soloist. In the early days, you had to have a plug in things so that you could do the various things with computers, and then you had a card program.
Mm-Hum. I've seen —
It's in museums.
One time I wrote a card program, but I never actually saw the computer.
It's in a museum, and CPCs were the early computer things. The way you connected to each thing you needed to have done, you know, instead strike — there were no keyboards. So, I used that.
When you arrived — when you got to Columbia, did you even know that there was such a thing as a computer?
Well, I knew — you know, the idea of computers go back a long — much computing machines.
But the one electric — I used the Friden, you know, on my Ph.D. work.
This is a continuation of August 23, 1994 interview. Second tape on the subject of first encounters with computers. Yeah, I mean, for example, I remember — I can remember first seeing a computer, but I don't remember what I thought about it. I just — I know when it happened. But I remember when ATMs began to appear at banks.
And I thought, it just seemed very — to me, it seemed like science fiction. It just reminded me of something that would be in a science fiction — I thought, this is very weird. I can't believe that this is really happening.
No, I never had that impression. And I recall — you know, if you did celestial mechanics that was a place where you really —
— saw how useful things. And well since —
[???] what it was invented for was ballistics, I think.
Yeah, 1954, big excitement in the labs because we got an IBM 650, which occupied a huge room, air-conditioned. You know, I think the pocket calculator has about the capability. So, I was familiar with computers, and I realized that there were people who lived computers, and I felt that it didn't make sense for me to become a computer specialist because there were people who were really so good at it that they could, you know, do it, whereas to me a computer was a tool. And I — working with the specialist, they could do something in far less time, but they didn't — you know, they knew about computers, but they didn't know the kind of things that I knew, and therefore it was a collaboration that worked very well for me.
And some of that has been the case up 'til now. I will use computers, and I will hopefully find recognition it could bring.
We'll discuss that when it's not being taped.
And that's the kind that I feel — there are always new developments, and I expect that I won't know everything. But other people are much better at things whether it's computers, typing or —
Cooking. And I don't have much skill in that area.
Do you remember, there would be the arrival of PCs?
Oh yes. One of my colleagues at Arthur D. Little had a secretary, and she had something with sort of a run of a PC, it was a big box, and there was a magnetic tape running around in there. And you know, I never understood how the blooming thing worked, but she was — I've seen one or two or three secretaries who had this kind of machine. And then my secretary got something which was a fairly big IBM — I've forgotten what it was called. And every two or three years that went away and something new then we got a laser printers, and that was a big box, and that did great things, and, you know, now we're at the stage where this thing has progressed to the point and I think, you know, I'm willing to buy a new car if I can ride it for 10 years. So long as happy I am, I don't like —
Shopping. And with a computer that doesn't work anymore. After three years, you've got to get a new computer because my wife still uses my Lotus IBM XT, which she got at the — that, you know, she doesn't —
Even I know that's old.
She went to business school at Columbia, not so long ago. And, you know, that's what — when did she graduate? It must have been 12 years ago. My God, you know, that's in — ready for the Smithsonian. But all I'm saying is that my brother-in-law is a very good man in these computers, and he got a fancy Mac, and now he's getting — he says that's old hat. He bought it three years ago. Talk about obsolescence, I mean, that's a cycle of — well, you know. It's not going to stop for a long time.
So, yes, my views of the computer, it's a very important tool, and one which does help. But at my stage in life, I'm not sure that it will do really more than I to have done even with old typewriters.
It's interesting to me though, because it's such a — I mean, even in my lifetime, it's just — you know, it arrived. I mean, when I was a kid these weren't around.
These big ones —
My grandson — you know, the one you see here on the left, he was as computers like they use the Navicus [?].
I'm sort of startled how unaware I was of how — how it all came — I don't mean the history, but just to be conscious that this was — that there was — you know, it just seemed to all be there and I couldn't really remember when it arrived or anything.
Well, you see, I was — I heard about Antioch [?], and you know —
— because of my connection with the Watson Lab at Columbia. therefore I was at — sort of at the birth of the whole thing.
But it made a very key transition from being something certain people used —
To now everybody uses.
To be everywhere.
Yeah. Well, my wife is computer literate.
Somehow, I don't quite know how that happened, but it's here.
Well, you know, and I think that's part of this communication that I mentioned, and you know —
— now I get e-mail, and so it's part in parcel of the new era, and, you know, if I say, "Well, if you're willing to accept that we have satellites for communications and so on, all that I'm talking about is exactly the same thing, except in a different frequency. Higher frequency, that's all." So, for the no mysteries that are involved in this, it's by and large every single technology that's involved, I can produce right here. I can show it to you. The whole thing that is involved — let's see if I can find some examples here. In my hand I hold the whole field of wireless power transmission. [???] generators.
You by them for about $10.00 [???]. That's what you put in your microwave oven. Put out by the zillions, for industrial use. For as most people know about microwave ovens.
This is the generator?
That's the generator. Imagine it's just like a motor. Except instead of the rotor you've got electrons moving around. Nothing moves. Those are solar cells. We've got much more sophisticated now. They come in thin-filmed — thin-filmed solar cells. Now that's the old-fashioned style. That's what you had on satellites about ten years ago.
What's on the roof of a house?
This silicone solar cell, this kind of stuff. This is just very thin films deposited on substance. I — you know, and that's old hat, too. I'm not showing you anything that's new. And then — okay, that's how we — that's how we — that's in — I love it, because I can show you what it's like. This is a type I'll rectify. Which converts microwaves directly into DC with ninety-percent efficiency. These are die-bolts [?], you know, just like your old TV set with the rabbit ears?
These are shots [?] key [?] barrier [?] and dais [?] and a bridge configuration. And that's a choke. Now all of that, if you imagine, that's — I'm have it because you can see what it is.
All of that now shrinks into two dimensional electronics, deposited on substance. That's how we convert microwaves. That's all there is, there ain't nothing strange about it. Old hat.
Generators, therefore rectifies solar sits [?]. No mystery.
Just economics, huh?
Not even that. It's getting used to the use of your own technology. Can it mean that you're going to do this from space? Bring power back from Earth.
Well, but people don't mind — companies don't mind doing things in space anymore.
No, but it's —
That in itself is not [???]
Yeah, but the size is. When I talk about miles of solar cells — square miles of solar — you know, that — that's why I'm always saying NASA has done essentially focused too much on what man can do. Man is very important to do things in the beginning, but the — we don't have hundred — how many men would it take with an abacus to do what my hand-held computer does, okay? So, how many EVA people would you have to have to build a solar powered satellite? Ten thousand doing EVA? Come on fellows. Have you ever heard of robots?
Well, I was thinking that before because I figured it was probably robots who'd set up your VLA on the moon, right?
Well, it sure you were that way. I mean, again, Capek, RUR — Robins Universal Robot, that's where the name comes from. You'd have robotics, space robotics, space assembly. That's what I always said you've got to learn on their space station. It isn't to do science, fellows. You can do science if you want to do it. We've got to — and the Russian understood that. Because Feoktistov, 1978, was quoted in the New Scientist, and he was asked, "Why are you going to build a space station [???]?"
And he said, "Well, we want to learn how to assemble large structures in space." And why do you want to assemble them? "Because we want to build solar powered satellites."
Who said this?
Feoktistov, he's the designer of the Emir [?] Space Station [???]. So the Russians realized why you'll have to have a space station. It is to learn how to assemble large structures for biotical. And whether it is in space or on the moon, it doesn't matter. And science, once we do that we can do the science as well. But to only do science, you're not going to get any money for it, or substantial. In other words, it's a dead-end. Laboratories don't convince people, you know, it's nice stuff to have, and yes, you can have a little program, but if you really want to do things on a global scale, you're not going to do it by talking about science. That is technology, that's engineering, it's micro-engineering. So, now I've told you everything there is about wireless power transmission.
From the 20s to the 90s, 1924.
And, you know Nikola Tesla understood it, and probably Capek understood it, it didn't have the technology.
You know, it's an interesting thing, you — if I remember this right, you said, you were struck by the idea of moving power around for the [???]
No, that's when it was — that's what the —
Having to move it — having — have anything to carry it.
That's why it exploded.
Well, yeah, I remember. I mean, it's something about that year, it just reminds me of what Overt [?] also said —
Well, earlier, just when he was a kid.
When he read — well, I don't know if you read Jules Verne and things like that, but he said, he was — when he was a kid, he was in a pretty whirl — you know, sort of a back-water part of Europe, and his town in his childhood, he sort of can remember things like seeing a car for the first time, and the train.
Well, I saw cars for the first time; I must have been seven or eight.
And he said what he was fascinated with, when he was a kid, were things that moved. Machines that could move themselves around. It was just something novel, it hadn't really been seen that much. That a machine would get itself from here to there. Just motion, and so, in a sense, this wireless transmission, is that it gets something from here to there, but nobody has to take it.
That's right. You're absolutely right. Now the other thing is —
It's a great revelation in the early [???]
Now the other thing, when I was a very young boy, you remember my father's factory. I think I mentioned that I went and I saw all this machinery stuff, you see, that I found interesting. But wireless power transmission and wireless radio, you know, to most people haven't the foggiest idea how it happens. They just turn on their TV and it works. But how the hell did all this get there? Nobody's even thinking about it.
Well, when you think about it, it gets so weird that you can't think about it, like, it must be zooming past you all the time, or something.
I think that one thought about it is enough to make you stop thinking about it, if you don't understand it, and have sort of have no way of understanding it.
You know, we're now at —
Or get close to it.
You know, if I had a radio here, or a TV set, right here, we can play it. That means that some energy is being transmitted, somehow, right here, right now. Where's it coming from? So we have — we live, actually, and always have, in a radiation environment. The sun is, you know. The earth, living matter developed in a radiation environment, and it can exist in a radiation environment, up to a point. Certain types of the frequency, certain levels.
Well, does that leave us out of the right place?
I think that leaves us at this point, and then we can start up again at another —
Another conference we can move back to 1962, when we start up again.
And I'll have read some more papers by then.
Well, at least you had a little preview.
We're going to get solar energy. I hope this isn't driving you crazy, taking a —
The time it's getting.
No. Remember, I — these are come out of recesses, out of my — you know, I haven't thought about these things that we have talked about, a long, long time. You know, you're asking good questions. How did I get to place that I am? I'd never asked myself that question.
No? You sound like you do. You talk like you do.
Well, but not consciously in the you know, sort of the intellectual way of putting it into words. I may have felt it, I may have thought it. To some extent, well, that's how I got to where I am.
I think about it all the time. Okay, I'll turn you off now.