The Perfectionist: Peter Kilham and the Birds is about my father, Peter Kilham, who was a great designer, inventor, and visionary. Through a compelling sense of purpose and perfection he invented bird feeders which brought millions of people happiness. I will share my conversations with him along the way. Everyone can draw inspiration from his story. It is something like Tuesdays with Morrie.
The book is now on Amazon as an ebook here.
There is also an amateur off-the-air recording of my father Peter Kilham interviewed by an NBC TV station around 1980. The image quality is technically poor, characteristic of the early video tape recorders, but it captures the essence of Peter Kilham. See it on YouTube .
Here is an excerpt from the book:
My father showed us that purpose, spirit, tenacity, and character fuel a person’s quest for success no matter how daunting the struggle. Key values aiding the quest are truth and perfection. The magical strength of the human heart and the extraordinary intellectual capacity of the human brain are worth more than any collection of material things and more relevant than the collective wisdom of the crowd. As Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
But times are changing. As my father noted when he was interviewed by John M. Conly of The Atlantic magazine in the October 1960 issue:
“Where was art? I wondered,” says Kilham. “In Leonardo’s time there was a reason for painting, for building cathedrals. Today there is only self-expression. The result is emptiness.”
The digital age seems to bypass true creativity and beauty. It becomes more pervasive as people, particularly the younger generations, squeeze into cities and absorb almost all their information from glowing screens. Being at one with nature and enjoying it as an artform itself is becoming a quaint pastime of the older generation. We are increasingly in the matrix of the digital world.
People must see that the whole universe is available to them and that creativity has never been more important than now. Children should realize that there is an infinite future for them. Society’s failure is failure to give them hope and encouragement. People’s dreams and imagination are the starting points for great creations.
For those who would seriously like to invent and produce something like the world’s best bird feeder, my father offered these insights an interview with a local newspaper:
My ideas aren't guaranteed to make anyone's fortune. But then again—if you're not in a hurry—maybe they will. You ask me how I came up with a bird feeder that made the world beat a path to my door? By doing my work according to these notions:
1. Make sure you satisfy yourself. Don't let yourself be rushed into doing things you're not proud of. Be a perfectionist.
2. Don't be afraid to fail. Be willing to work by trial and error. The life we live is made up of falls and recoveries. The falls educate us and the recoveries enrich us.
3. Reach for excellence always. You can never reach that perfection yourself, but if you try as hard as you can that's the main thing. That's where happiness lies. And, often, success as well.
My 2012 novel Love Byte foretold our brave new world of fake news and fraudulent social media messages. In the opening pages, we overhear:
“Good evening, Dr. Renwick. This is Dr. Erwin Krakouer, the National Security Advisor. We met at a security conference in Washington.”
“Good evening. Everyone calls me ‘Tom.’”
“Tom, let me get right to the point. Do you recall the Arab Spring and the riots in Cairo?”
“Did you notice that the revolutionaries used Facebook and Twitter to organize and inflame the riots? And undoubtedly you followed the more sophisticated uses of the social media employed in England, Russia and the Occupy Wall Street movement right here in America?”
“Yes, but I didn’t think that much about it at the time.”
“Well, let’s add some new technology. Now that we have an AI supercomputer that can think, talk, and listen like a human, couldn’t we program it to promote and guide riots and revolutions in target countries? Couldn’t we set up websites, email identities, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts so that the computer could send out thousands of messages to the waiting multitudes as if the computer were dozens of revolutionary leaders—or in other cases, top government leaders? Could it read and listen to the replies and media responses, and then could it send out more social media blasts tuned to changes and new developments?”
“Absolutely. We have the capability right here,” Tom replied.
“And if the nation found itself in a cyber war, could Juno be programmed to screw up all the enemy computers?”
“Yes, it could be done,” Tom answered slowly, “but I would need to connect Juno to one of the big computers that already have cyber warfare programming. The good news is that these computers are right here at the labs in our Cyber Warfare Group.”
The book goes on to explore the implications of this media-modifying technology through the persona of Juno, a frighteningly intelligent supercomputer who is involved at every step. Whole political empires are upset in the United States and abroad. Love Byte is available from Amazon as an ebook and paper book.
Free Will is a concept or phenomenon that appears through all literature and common discourse since civilization began. In some sense, it definitely exists, but it means different things to different people. It is a semantic construct, not a defined constant like the physical law of gravity. With this latitude for interpretation, free will has become a favorite subject for philosophers.
Does free will conflict with predestination? The orthodoxy of some religions views that to be the case. Many scientists, perhaps particularly physicists, would agree for different reasons. But there is also the point of view that free will in some significant form can coexist with religious predestination and scientific determinism.
The more traditional thinkers—often religious philosophers—maintain that God or some other supernatural force or being controls our destiny, so free will, if we even have it, does the individual little or no good. The forces of predestination encompass great time and distance, so the tiny human’s free will, such as it may be, is not significant. The counter to that school of thought is we must have significant free will to choose to follow God and that, in any case, God wants us to use our free will to our best advantage in our daily lives.
Noting that sin is a central tenet of many religions, logicians say if we have no free will, we cannot sin when we do a sinful act, such as murder, because we have no choice. We do whatever our neurons tell us to do. This could be called neural predestination.
Often questioning or even dismissing free will are the determinists—usually scientists—who claim that we are totally driven by our cerebral computer. Our every action is the outcome of a series of logical interactions of our neurons from our birth to the present instant. If you were to replay any piece of your history, you would always make the same decision. You are, in effect, a DNA-driven robot, according to this school.
On the other hand, some scientists, particularly neurologists, believe that the prefrontal cortex in the human brain gives humans the unique ability to foresee the future and plan within a complex social environment. It gives humans the sense of responsibility toward the self and others. This allows humans to manage their destiny at the command of their free will.
These issues play out in my new book Free Will Odyssey. You may get it as an ebook, paper book, or audiobook at Amazon.
I watched a very interesting series on Netflix called The Polar Sea, and the website is http://polarsea360.arte.tv/. European adventurers sail several yachts through the Northwest Passage. They stop along the way, primarily in Inuit native villages.
We learn that, due to global warming, the traditional game such as seals are disappearing, and the Inuit are cautiously welcoming tourists, all kinds of ships, and possibly settlers. The flatlands, recently covered by glaciers, are turning into grassy areas. These may evolve to tree-covered areas where pioneers could settle.
Of course, the composition of wildlife on land and in the sea will be different than today, but this may be the last frontier as the western world dies off.
By the way: Find the open boat with some people in it in the photo.
It has often been observed that drugs disrupt the mind’s free will. The addict has a one-track mind with no room for choosing. They have lost control. If there were a way to reignite their free will using an immersive environment that could help the detox process? Virtual reality (VR) might provide such an environment.
Suppose a humanoid AI robot and a person were the only witnesses to a murder. At the trial, they give contradictory testimony. Which one would you trust?
This is among the issues discussed in my forthcoming book Free Will Odyssey.
Haven't we all had the uncomfortable feeling that we have been trapped by fake news? Here are two ways to help you break away.
With every questionable news revelation, shut off your mind's news mode. Take a walk, read a chapter from a novel, play a game, or talk with someone about a non-news subject. With your mind reset, ask yourself, "Is this a real news or do I need to learn more?"
A good starting point in qualifying the news item and learning more is to check if the same news is reported by trusted news sources. Make a headline summarizing the fake news story and Google search it. See if there is confirmation of the alleged news.
You need to encourage free will, not subjugated will, in your thinking.
Free Will should be fresh breathing space for the open and inquiring mind. With free will, we should be able to unleash our imagination and be more creative. Some scientists say, however, that free will is a fiction—our mind’s wanderings are determined before we can exert independent thought. I think it depends on the reaction mode and kind of choice to be made. If you instantly retract your finger from touching a hot stove, that is a deterministic reaction, not free will. If, on the other hand, you are contemplating marriage and a marriage partner, that could well be a free will decision.
Maybe in a few years our minds can be connected to massive computers and the combination will have free will. Probably the computers would be in the clouds and the connecting link would be the smartphone.
This may be the theme of my next book.
Honeybees, which are of the greatest commercial interest, pollinate about a third of what we eat, including fruits, nuts and vegetables. Thirty-one percent of US bee colonies were lost in the winter of 2013 alone. Then, as the future of the honeybees seems dire indeed, the cavalry of the robots rushes to the rescue of the flowering plants and trees. Although they are not yet deployed into the waiting blossoms, they already have a name: robobees.
The current leader in robobees technology is a team at Harvard University. In May 2013, their School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced that an experimental prototype of the robobee made its first controlled flight. Half the size of a paperclip, weighing less than a tenth of a gram, it powered upward, hovered on its delicate flapping wings, and flew away.
Writing in the Scientific American, the team leaders said, “In 2009 the three of us began to seriously consider what it would take to create a robotic bee colony. We wondered if mechanical bees could replicate not just an individual’s behavior but the unique behavior that emerges out of interactions among thousands of bees. We have now created the first RoboBees—flying bee-size robots—and are working on methods to make thousands of them cooperate like a real hive.”
A major engineering breakthrough was finding a way to power the high speed flapping of the 3 cm wings. The solution was piezoelectric effect actuators. Electric fields applied to tiny ceramic strips cause them to flap the bee’s wings at 120 times per second.
Read more at the Winter of the Genomes website. It can be ordered on Amazon.
I'm both bored and disgusted with the steady stream of half-truths and outright lies from the presidential candidates. Since we are a pioneering nation and leaders in computer technology, why not run IBM's Watson for President?
Actually, there is a website watson2016.com promoting just that. They say:
"The Watson 2016 Foundation is an independent organization formed for the advocacy of the artificial intelligence known as Watson to run for President of The United States of America. It is our belief that Watson’s unique capabilities to assess information and make informed and transparent decisions define it as an ideal candidate for the job responsibilities required by the president..."
What do you think? Put Watson in the White House as a write-in candidate!
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).