Ages 25-27, Fulltime in Washington, D.C. (1985-1987)
(Note: This part of my life I decided to remove from this website for several years, but on my 51st birthday in 2010, I decided to put it back in. A few things may be repeated in the Ages 27-35 section immediately afterward this one, but I do not want to edit that page yet due to the flow there.)
I arrived in Washington, D.C., in early 1985 with a job at the US Patent Office. Honestly, I wasn't highly interested in that job but at my university, the US Patent Office sent the only job interviewer from the Washington, D.C., region which I was aware of, and so I interviewed and took a subsequent job offer from them, to be used as a stepping stone to Washington, D.C.
I was a Patent Examiner, whereby my role was to analyze applications for patent -- alleged inventions -- and judge whether or not they were patentable, based on research of the state of the art and certain legal criteria. It was a combination of technology and law. I went thru the academy to learn patent law, as well as trademarks and copyrights, and was fairly quickly on my way to analyzing, researching, and judging applications, as well as handling the applicants' lawyers.
Meanwhile, during off-hours, I got involved in various social groups in the region, primarily related to space development and colonization.
One was the L-5 Society, a space settlement advocacy organization following the O'Neill vision of using lunar and near Earth asteroidal materials to industrialize space and create space settlements. The L-5 Society had a few tens of thousands of members nationwide and a chapter structure in many cities. The Washington, D.C., chapter included the suburban Maryland and Virginia areas, and was very active due to its unique location. Within a year, I was actually elected President of this chapter. However, the central national headquarters was disconnected from our chapter, and they had some people doing lobbying and other things who seemed not keen on myself stepping onto their turf. Unlike with other chapters, they failed to list my name as President for the DC L-5 chapter in their magazine.
Another group was the Space Studies Institute (SSI) with headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, and they had a Washington DC group which was very warmly welcoming of me, but many of these people shunned politics. Many SSI people had concluded that the best way to industrialize and settle space was by the private sector, and that trying to spend time lobbying NASA and the government would be futile. Dr. O'Neill and his key people had spent a lot of time and effort on that already in the past, with some painful failures. Some of the SSI people also took no interest in the L-5 chapter, like they were apprehensive of being associated with some L-5 people who might do something too amateurish. Many of the SSI followers seemed to consider themselves a step up in status. The L-5 people were generally very positive towards the SSI people, but it wasn't always reciprocated.
To say the least, there seemed to be some lack of cooperation between some of the L-5 and SSI people despite their very overlapping goals and agendas. I had some good coaches who filled me in on a lot of the details. As in many political organizations, I also thought there were egos, turf battles, picky attitudes, and self-righteousness bubbling up from time to time.
Both groups were very locally oriented, not nationally oriented. The L-5 national people didn't engage the L-5 local chapter, and the L-5 local chapter was not keen on the new people who arose in the L-5 national organization. A big issue was that new administrators in the national organization wanted L-5 merge with another big organization, the National Space Institute (NSI), which had heavy resistance nationwide out of fear that L-5 would lose its focus, as NSI was a very broadly general space advocacy organization, whereas L-5 was focused on the O'Neill vision. Despite all the vocal resistance, the merge was done, and the focus was eventually lost.
In both L-5 and SSI, I was very limited in what I was allowed to do.
I could see where things were headed. Frustrations along these lines led to me reverting back to developing PERMANENT on the side, whereby I could advocate whatever I thought was best.
Meanwhile, I went out applying for jobs in the space development field with NASA contractors as well as in the defense space program.
There were far more jobs in the defense program due to President Reagan's new "Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)" which many scientists and political opponents called "Star Wars" after the fiction movie. The funding was on the rapid rise.
One of the jobs I interviewed for was with a company near the Pentagon which provided analysis at top management levels in the Pentagon, Analytic Services, Inc., aka ANSER, www.anser.org , a nonprofit think tank for the government with a broad range of interests.
They were interested in me because I had done research and published a scientific paper in areas they were interested in -- electromagnetic launchers and pulse power systems -- and they needed some expertise in that area. We also hit it off pretty well in interviews, as I knew a good bit about SDI and the technologies already (I tended to stay up on current affairs).
It was interesting to me because my entry level was at a much higher level of program management than for other jobs.
SDI was very controversial because many people questioned its feasibility and high funding levels, including inside defense circles, relative to other priorities in defense spending.
While I was not keen on wasteful spending, I did see the value of having defenses against ballistic missiles, rather than being defenseless, whether they be Russian nuclear missiles or rogue ones, same technology, same systems.
However, I could see that if any defense like SDI were emplaced in space, then they would need things like shielding, stations, fuel propellants, and other massive things which would justify utilizing material already in space from the Moon or asteroids near Earth, instead of trying to launch all that up from Earth, which would help PERMANENT.
(In fact, it was an SDI project which eventually discovered ice at the lunar poles about 10 years later. An SDI probe was sent into lunar orbit with instruments designed to detect water in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles, and that same probe subsequently sent on a multiple asteroid flyby. Unfortunately, the probe had a major technical problem in between the Moon and those asteroids which ended the mission prematurely, a major disappointment. The probe was called Clementine (named after the song about "a miner, 49er, and his daughter Clementine"). However, that was many years later and I'm getting ahead of myself by a few years here ...)
So I took this job and resigned my Patent Office job in short order. So, later in the same year, 1985, I was already working in a space job. However, it had been a good experience going thru the Patent Academy and processing some patent applications.
The division which hired me was helping to manage two space based experiments, Delta 180 and Delta 181 which launched in 1986 and 1987, but surprisingly to me, I kept being assigned to technical assessments of "ideas coming in" and "find a solution for this problem" analysis, which were usually very theoretical, and was separate from or maybe details to consider for those two physical experiments.
One of my specializations was sensors for space cameras. It's funny now because the technology today is so vastly beyond what existed when I finally left that realm in 1987. The compact camera in your pocket or mobile phone are examples, the advances in semiconductor chips for sensors.
There were other areas, too, including electromagnetic launchers and space power which were on my CV, but those turned out to be a tiny part of what I was involved in.
The company had some other divisions which actually seemed more interesting to me in some ways than the division I was currently working for, and I sometimes wandered around to talk with people outside of my division.
One remarkable event was in relation to the library. I had seen a professional periodical publication somewhere on
nuclear, biological, and chemical ("NBC") defense (I think the publication was named "NBC Defense"), which I found to be very interesting and incisive, especially about the biological part. It was like a professional trade publication. To me, it was highly relevant to both national defense and worldwide human survival and well being, and I thought that people in the company who maintain broad interests in these two areas (rather than just specialists in their own paid realms), especially the intelligence department of the company, should find it of interest. Therefore, I suggested that the company subscribe to this periodical.
Some time later, my division manager had a talk with me inside her office. Word had gotten around whereby she had been told of my suggestion to subscribe to the NBC defense magazine, and also the decision about that matter, which had been made by a very high level person in the company. The decision was no, they would not subscribe. She commented that this one high level person found the periodical to be distasteful and they didn't want to provide any support for it, or something like that. It wasn't her decision nor her opinion, though she didn't tell me her opinion. It was mainly just a short update and the result of my suggestion.
Also, nobody in the company or its immediate circles was significantly interested in any concepts utilizing asteroidal or lunar materials in any of their concepts, not even as a side topic. There were some other side topics which people were interested in, but mentions of lunar or asteroidal resources utilization were pretty much dismissed as too far out and irrelevant in my work circles. (One guy even scoffed and said "get outta here" when I raised the topic.)
There were some people in SDI outside of my company who were interested, with one result being the Clementine probe mission which eventually was the first to discover lunar polar water in large quantities, an SDI probe launched long after I had departed the SDI program, but those people were far outside of my local walkaround chatting realm with I worked for SDI.
So, in 1985 to 1987, I ramped up PERMANENT from home, and out in my own Washington, D.C., circles, all on my own.
I wrote up a lot of promotional materials and introduced them to a lot of people. I testified to the National Commission on Space. I went to the offices of leading journalists of publications such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and other places, occasionally sneaking away from work to do so during the business day, such as near lunch time. (I was not interested in talking about SDI outside of my workplace office, only about PERMANENT, though I sometimes used my official scientist status with SDI to get credibility, though I never discussed anything sensitive about SDI, and made it clear that I was there to discuss PERMANENT.)
There were conferences coming and going and I would attend them and occasionally make a presentation, only about PERMANENT, not about SDI.
I also did not publicly promote SDI applications of PERMANENT due to a fear of a backlash, as many people were against SDI and the weaponization of space or what they thought was wasteful spending.
I was very active outside my job. I didn't know anybody else at my workplace who had any outside activity, as they were mostly 8-to-5 people who weren't interested in much about space outside their job, and I generally didn't hang out with my coworkers and instead sought out others to socialize with after hours. The SDI job was very much an 8-to-5-only job for me, too, but I had much bigger interests in my free time.
1985-1987 was kind've the heyday of PERMANENT for awhile, as I met a whole lot of people and organizations, and wrote a lot of the PERMANENT materials at that time.
I'd had to teach myself how to learn a personal computer and how to type, and it was PERMANENT which motivated me to do so. I had not known how to use a computer, but I had some very ambitious needs for PERMANENT so I was busy trying to learn and do a lot!
Internet hardly existed at that time, and it was many years before the World Wide Web even came into existence. All we had back then was Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), and I had the PERMANENT BBS where anybody could dial in to read about PERMANENT, download research, artwork, and send/receive email and files.
I was also trying to design databases and create viewcharts and artwork. Computers back then were not nearly as user friendly as now. It was just MS-DOS. Personal computers were very new to the world. Most professionals had never touched one in 1985. Older people will remember this. If you had a personal computer then you were thought of as a techie. Real managers and workers had a secretary to type everything for them from their handwritten notes. That was 1985.
The PERMANENT BBS was helped immensely by a guy who contacted me. He was a computer specialist running a BBS and computerizing another space organization called the Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space (ISCOS). His name was Steve. I had read of ISCOS because its founder, Dr. Carol Rosin, was a leading opponent of SDI, and was all over the political landscape in Washington, D.C., as well as in the press, debating against SDI -- and I also happened to see her debate live, one on one, on CNN with the originator of SDI, General Daniel Graham, who was also the one who introduced the concept to Ronald Reagan and got SDI started and going as part of Reagan's inner circle. However, I didn't imagine anybody from there would ever contact me, and I didn't think much about them, just another NGO out of many opposing Star Wars.
Carol Rosin had worked closely with Wernher von Braun, the German V2 inventor who became one of the most instrumental in NASA's success in its space program in the 1960s, called by many NASA professionals of the Apollo program as the greatest rocket scientist ever and the biggest key to the success of the Apollo moon program. Rosin had become close to von Braun and became his spokesperson late in his life. When the Apollo program ended, Von Braun became a Vice President for Fairchild Industries, a military defense contractor where Carol Rosin was a corporate manager. After meeting at Fairchild, Rosin explains that Von Braun argued against "weaponization" of space, and for peaceful development, and swayed Rosin over to his viewpoint.
ISCOS opposed SDI because it would weaponize space, and ISCOS promoted peaceful cooperation missions with the Russians and others as alternatives.
At the time, I was more interested in getting some expert help in computers and BBSes for PERMANENT, and for purely practical reasons Steve was the perfect match -- running a BBS, creating his own databases for ISCOS, and he could write custom programs. Steve was also a personally nice activist and more than willing to donate time, effort, and skill, unlike most people, for free and enthusiastically. We also had a good friendly rapport, and he was interested in PERMANENT.
I also knew that the Russians were interested in asteroids and planning to send probes to Mars' captured asteroidal moon Phobos, unlike NASA at that time, so I suggested that development of lunar and asteroidal materials along the lines of PERMANENT could become one of the ISCOS "Cooperation in Outer Space" projects, an idea which was received well by Steve and ISCOS. (In 1988, after years of design and building, the Russians indeed launched the Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 probes, one of which lost contact en route and the other took some photos then suddenly lost contact while deploying lander probes, so that both probes were lost.)
In fact, I brainstormed the idea of introducing to ISCOS a prominent leader from the NASA space program who was a major proponent of a joint US-Russian Phobos mission, Dr. Brian T. O'Leary, to ISCOS and Carol Rosin, as Dr. O'Leary had long worked for SSI in promoting asteroidal resources, and at an SSI/AIAA conference in 1985 had promoted a mission to Phobos and Deimos (Mars' other asteroidal moon). Brian was also in the final stages of publishing a book on a joint USA-USSR manned mission to Phobos in 1987.
It was a perfect match to promote PERMANENT's concepts as well as ISCOS'. It turns out that Brian and Carol hit it off extremely well, and Carol eventually even gave Brian the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors ISCOS in 1987!
... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I eventually visited ISCOS in 1986 and hit it off well with Carol and her staff. They knew I worked on SDI but the PERMANENT stuff was the main topic. We did talk a little bit about SDI in general, though not about my specific technical work at all, just the general political issues, but the main parts of our discussions were about PERMANENT and alternative, peaceful development of space. They were not interested in asking me about my SDI technical work, thank goodness, because that would have started the end of the relationship.
And with Steve, it was mainly about BBS setup and computer stuff, about which he helped me tremendously.
Sometimes, Steve would debate the issues of SDI and weaponization of space with me and we would talk about a lot of political issues, but Steve did not have the scientific or technical background to get into much specificity. Our focus was on software and BBS development. I was into the conceptual design of user friendly and useful systems, and Steve was very experienced and knowledgeable about software for this. Steve was a jovial "people person" and knew a lot about politics and society, but when it came to technical and scientific issues, his understanding was very basic and I had to give him primers on all sorts of things which had nothing to do with my work. Steve's science background wasn't very strong. Steve seemed to enjoy talking about anything, and there was lots from the layman press on SDI to talk about which had nothing to do with the particular esoteric specializations in which I was working, and it was easy enough to talk about PERMANENT or Stephen Hawking stuff or the environment or whatever.
Nonetheless, this liaison with ISCOS, in addition to my running around visiting journalists and others around Washington, D.C., seemed to get the attention of some people in my professional circles.
I think my visiting journalists in their offices may have done the same thing, even though it had nothing to do with SDI.
I would put 1985-1987 as three core years when I got a lot done on PERMANENT, and a lot of the PERMANENT book which came out 10 years later was based on things I researched and wrote during that time.
During this time, I also started flexing my newfound computer consulting skills by helping other people, organizations, and businesses set up their computer systems. I started this voluntarily, for free, just for the experience, both software and hardware consulting. I was known for setting up very user friendly systems, at a time when computers were not very user friendly, and businesses were just starting to computerize so that the demand far exceeded supply of computer skilled people. Word got around that I was a good teacher and set up user friendly and practical computer systems, so my services were in demand. Thanks to Steve, I was pretty good about the software, but the hardware part I was still learning.
I resigned my defense department job in late 1987 because I was really tired of the 8-5 routine, I really couldn't see my specialized SDI work helping PERMANENT much, and I saw a brilliant future ahead of me as a computer and communications consultant, a field which was exploding. Such consulting work, I thought, would also give me the flexible schedule and time to work more on PERMANENT.
Many people thought I was nuts. I had thrown away a good paying career, and started on a new career path in which I had no formal education and which people saw as lower class and techie -- computers and modem communications.
However, I had a vision that other people didn't understand. After all, 99% had never even heard of anything called "internet", and 99% had never used email.
My motivations in doing internet consulting were not to make money, they were to improve the world. One motivation was to empower individuals who had good leadership potential, and smaller organizations. The mainstream media had journalists who were too lazy to cover many topics well beyond basic "establishment" narratives, and I had issues on how many topics were covered. With the future internet at the time, to usher in an era where to have "freedom of the press" you no longer needed to own a press, you just needed a computer and a modem. Then you have worldwide publicity. You don't need to own a printing press, lots of paper, staff, and delivery trucks, or a major TV station. All you need is a personal computer and a modem. In 1987, only about 1% of Americans had that, and few were using their computers and modems for humanistic pursuits.
I was a wild-eyed idealist at the time. I also sought after researchers, journalists, nonprofit organizations, and other humanistic people to be my customers, of which Washington, D.C., had plenty.
A great benefit of this work was exposure to a wide variety of people and organizations, something I didn't get in a fulltime 8-to-5 job. I had been living and working in an "Ivory Tower" up to that time. In consulting, I helped others across the social and political spectrum, from individuals to large organizations. I did not identify with any particular political ideology and agreed with some things from nearly everybody I met across the spectrum, though also disagreed with some things ... but it was the exposure to and understanding of the wide variety of people and organizations which was very beneficial to my understanding of human nature.
Many of them were realizing that Information Technology should be at the core of their organization moving into the future. If they didn't "get it", then I moved on and didn't try to persuade resistant people too much. (Some where hoping to retire before they needed to learn how to use a computer, which was depressing to see, people not curious about this wonderful new technology and all the information coming to their fingertips.)
I wanted to put my military work into my past and forget it. It was never my intention to mix the past and the future.
Recall, though my university degree was in physics, I also had a minor in political science and was very read up on world events. I also wanted to spread internet around the world.
During my university years, I learned a lot about the history of communism, socialism, and capitalism around the world. Experience working in the government and for a government contractor helped that a bit. I became a strong proponent of minimal government, for several reasons:
I was really committed to throwing away the perks and getting out of the comfort zone, in order to learn life in the purely private sector.
This is not naivete about corporations. I was well aware of the pitfalls of companies -- that they sell foods with bad things in them to the masses, they put out misleading marketing, they buy journalists who review their products (noting the correlation between advertisers and editor's choices of awful products vs. much better competing products), they buy politicians, they influence the regulators realm, and so on. However, this would be a lesser evil when the internet rises and consumers can post their own reviews and criticisms, I believed.
A free press is crucial for the checks and balances system of our society, and internet would improve that situation dramatically.
As a final note on this phase of my life, I want to cite some history which I had been keenly aware of from my university years in view of the Pentagon related work I was just about to leave:
Here is a short YouTube extraction from President (and five star General) Eisenhower's farewell address on the dangers of "the military industrial complex" on January 17, 1961, days before he turned over the presidency to John F. Kennedy. Prophetic. Eisenhower had been Supreme Commander of the US invasion of Europe in 1944-45 to overthrow nazi Germany, and was the first Supreme Commander of NATO, before being elected US President, one of the greatest people of the 20th century. (2:31)
To put the above extract into context, I recommend listening to the entire speech:
Part 1 of 2: The leadup and very beginning of his discussion of the Military Industrial Complex (7:52) - audio only
Part 2 of 2: The core of his discussion of the Military Industrial Complex (7:53) - audio only
Several days later, John F. Kennedy became president, and during his Presidential inauguration speech, he ends with his famous words:
"Ask not what your country can do for you
My fellow citizens of the world
"... finally whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world ... ... the same high standards ... with a good conscience, our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds ..."
President Kennedy also started the "Peace Corps Volunteers" program (including involvement in the 1950s early conceptual work long before he became President), and many of the best people I've ever met in this world were former Peace Corps Volunteers. Indeed, many of these people helped me spread internet around the world, and persuaded me to take work at less pay than other jobs in order to work together with them on the same ideal.
Meanwhile, I've known a lot of people who got very rich as defense contractors waving the flag all the way to the bank, but they wouldn't do anything patriotic without a major money incentive, and without that suddenly get lazy and disinterested otherwise, and in fact I've seen a lot of questionable behavior to maximize their income without regard to the national interest or international security concerns, something I consider getting close to the labels of "scam". Waving the flag all the way to the bank.
Similarly for USAID and the United Nations. Lots of corruption.
More than a decade later, I support our troops and sacrificing people on the ground in Iraq and around the world, but I heavily question the motives of many people who got us into the Iraq war in the first place, as well as the negligent management which led to poor intelligence about Iraq and Al Queda. However, I was not at all surprised. The system promotes by personal loyalties and institutional conformity, not patriotism or ethics. And MONEY.
Enough was enough back in 1987.
It's remarkable to find on the Wikipedia page of Eisenhower just two extensive quotes at the end of the page:
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