Technology and Courage

Technology and Courage
Technology and Courage
Ivan Sutherland
Perspectives 96-1
In an Essay Series Published by SunLabs
April 1996
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Editor’s Notes
About the series
— The Perspectives series is a collection of essays written by individuals
from Sun Microsystems Laboratories. These essays express ideas and opinions held by the
authors on subjects of general rather than technical interest. Sun Microsystems Laboratories publishes these essays as a courtesy to the authors to share their views with interested friends and colleagues. The opinions and views expressed herein are solely those of the authors, and do not in
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About the author
— Dr. Ivan E. Sutherland recently won the prestigious Price Waterhouse
Information Technology Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as an honored
place in the Smithsonian’s Permanent Collection of Information Technology (IT) Innovation.
He is widely known for his pioneering contributions in the field of computer graphics. His 1963
MIT Ph.D. thesis, Sketchpad, first demonstrated the potential of computer graphics. In his work
on a head-mounted three-dimensional display at Harvard in the mid ’60s, Ivan anticipated today’s
virtual reality by 25 years. He is co-founder of Evans and Sutherland, which produces the most
advanced computer image generators now in use. As head of the Computer Science Department
at Caltech, he helped make integrated circuit design an acceptable field of academic study. Dr.
Sutherland is a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy
of Sciences. He received the ACM Turing Award in 1988 and holds several honorary degrees.
In this paper, his spirit and joy are revealed:
I, for one, am and will always remain a practicing technologist. When denied my
minimum daily adult dose of technology, I get grouchy. I believe that technology
is fun, especially when computers are involved, a sort of grand game or puzzle
with ever so neat parts to fit together. I have turned down several lucrative administrative jobs because they would deny me that fun. If the technology you do isn’t
fun for you, you may wish to seek other employment. Without the fun, none of us
would go on.
Dr. Sutherland is presently Vice President and Fellow of Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Notes from the Author
This paper is essentially the text of a lecture I gave at Carnegie Mellon University
in 1982. It was the first, and nearly the only, non-technical lecture I have ever
given. At the time, I was deeply concerned that the ideas I expressed would be of
little interest or value.
This paper was eventually published in the Carnegie Mellon University Computer
Science 25th Anniversary Commemorative [15]. Continuing demand for informal
copies suggests that people, especially young people, may garner value from it.
Perhaps experience has something to offer youth.
As I read this paper again for the first time in many years, it brought me face to
face with my own latest failures of courage. Sadly, I have no more courage now
than I had then, no better insight into failures of courage, and no new ways to bolster courage. I was able to add only citations to subsequently published work.
Sun Microsystems Laboratories reprints this paper with permission of the ACM
press as a courtesy to those who may wish a copy. The ideas are my own and represent no official position of Sun Microsystems, Inc. or Carnegie Mellon University. The text is also available on the World Wide Web.
You may reproduce this document for any not-for-profit purpose. Reproduction
for profit or where a royalty is paid to anyone requires prior permission from the
Ivan Sutherland
Mountain View, CA
December 1995
Technology and Courage
Ivan Sutherland
Sun Microsystems Laboratories
2550 Garcia Avenue
Mountain View, California 94043
1 Introduction
Sutherland is a Scottish name. My ancestors came from the northernmost county
in Scotland, called Sutherlandshire, a land where cows grow long hair against the
cold, trees mostly refuse to grow at all, and the farmers cut peat to heat their
homes. I enjoyed the sunrise at 3 AM there one summer morning, it having set
about 11 PM the previous evening. Because the bonus of summer sunshine is
merely borrowed from winter, winter must be bleak indeed. A British friend who
was with me in Sutherlandshire remarked that Sutherlands there are “two for a
penny”; I had thought of them “a dime a dozen,” but considering the pound to dollar exchange rate, it’s about the same value.
I often wear a tie bearing my family colors, the Sutherland tartan. Depending upon
the listener, I claim to wear it either a) because I own only one tie, which is not
true, or b) as a default to avoid having to choose a tie, which is true but unimportant, or c) in honor of my late father who also generally wore such a tie, which is
also true and is my real reason: like my father before me, I am proud of my lineage, and draw courage from identifying with my ancestors.
Nearly all of the talks I have ever given were technical. Because I am a professor
at heart, you can wind me up and I will easily go on for exactly 50 minutes on any
of my several technical interests. I go on easily because I know my subjects well, I
know what is interesting about them, I know that I can talk clearly about them, and
I have had favorable responses from previous audiences.
Today, however, I want to do something very much harder for me. I want to depart
from my familiar technical fields to address a different subject: courage. I direct
my remarks to young people who may soon discover for the first time that to do
technology requires courage, and to my older colleagues who, like me, have languishing technical projects and reports that seem less important than today's urgent
tasks. I am going to talk about the courage required to do creative technical work,
and because I have mainly my own experience to draw on, this will be an intensely
personal talk, revealing of my own failures of courage. I ask you to apply to yourselves any lessons you may learn.
1.1 What is Courage?
Many activities require courage, a human trait we find admirable. We admire the
courage required to explore a wilderness and so great explorers become famous:
Lewis and Clark, Admiral Byrd, Amelia Earhart, and John Glenn, for example.
We also admire political courage, as exhibited by Abraham Lincoln or Winston
Churchill, or more recently by Mikhail Gorbachev. Taking financial risks in business also requires courage, as exhibited by Lee Iacocca, although less so when
someone else's money is at risk. Changing to a new job or a new school requires
personal courage, especially so when making a home in a new city.
What is courage? Courage is what it takes to overcome fear. Fear is an emotion
appropriate to perceived risk. Thus, to exhibit courage one must both perceive a
risk and proceed in spite of it. Suppose a child has fallen through the ice on a lake
and could be saved if reached. A person who walks out on the ice believing it to
be very thick requires no courage because he perceives no risk even though others
may think him courageous. A person who correctly perceives that the ice is thin
and stays off it likewise exhibits no courage; rather we call his action prudent or
cowardly, depending on whether or not the ice is, in fact, too thin for safety. Courage is required only of a person who proceeds to rescue the child in full knowledge
that the ice is thin.
1.2 Courage in Technology
Exploring the horizons of technology requires courage because research carries
risks, even if we cannot always articulate them in advance. Generally they are not
physical risks, although physical risks exist in some fields of science. Often they
are not immediate personal financial risks, because these may be borne by the university, an industrial employer, or the government sponsor of the work. Usually the
risks are more subtle but no less strong: they are social and emotional risks, risks
to reputation and to pride; they are risks that are felt but difficult to identify and
In addition to the risk to reputation and to pride, the very nature of research poses
its own special risk. In research, we daily face the uncertainty of whether our chosen approach will succeed or fail. We steep ourselves in elusive, mysterious, and
unnamed phenomena, and we struggle to unravel very complex puzzles, often
making no visible progress for weeks or months, sometimes for years. We strive
for simplicity and clarity in a cloudy and often baffling world. The special risk of
research starts with the high probability that any particular attempt will fail and
follows from the resulting experience of repeated failure. Research carries a special risk of discouragement.
1.3 Failures of Courage
When you have inadequate courage for a task, you can work up your courage,
reduce the real risk, reduce your perception of the risk, or leave the task undone. I
use all four methods. All too often, however, I leave tasks undone because I don't
recognize that my courage is inadequate to the risks I feel but don't verbalize. Our
universities provide mechanisms, both formal and informal, for reducing the risks
of research and for building up the courage of researchers. Our free enterprise system also provides mechanisms to encourage entrepreneurs to undertake new challenges. Each of us also has ways to conserve and bolster his own courage. The
body of this talk is my list of some of these mechanisms. I suggest that you can
draw on them as well as invent some of your own, and that by doing so you may be
better able to face the difficult challenges technology offers.
2 External Encouragement
Because individuals are often unable to get things done without encouragement,
society has devised many forms of encouragement. There are rewards of money,
fame, acclaim, recognition, status, or love. Prizes, statues, certificates, medals, and
honorary titles are some of the adult equivalents of the gold stars we got as children for good work. Large offices, with carpets, maybe with windows, and with or
without a flag or fancy plants in them are also symbols of status. There are also
punishments for inaction. Often we formalize such rewards and punishments in
the form of written or unwritten contracts.
Contracts often contain deadlines. Deadlines help inspire us to extra effort
because the task must be done on time. In some research, deadlines are absolute: a
space mission to study Halley's Comet must be launched on time, but softer, selfimposed deadlines are also useful for raising the urgency of tasks. An architect
friend of mine taught me the word “charette,” meaning the feverish activity immediately preceding a deadline. The term comes from the French name for the horsedrawn carts in Paris that carried architectural students with their architectural models from their workshops to their examinations, still feverishly finishing the models “en charette.” In the vernacular English we can speak of “having a charette,”
and, of course, there is a verb form: “charetting it up.” Without a deadline there
can be no charette. A designer friend of mine is completely unable to function
without a deadline to work against. Several times I have asked him to do simple
tasks for me, designing a letterhead, for example, “when he had time.” Until I figured out that he works only against a deadline, I got no result at all. Now I ask him
for something by a particular date and he usually delivers on time. Evidently, he
can work only “en charette.”
The fellowship of people in groups offers encouragement. Groups of people will
even do things that single individuals wouldn't do; lynchings and riots are an
extreme form of this. Group activities seem easier. Boards and committees share
not only knowledge, but also responsibility, and thus increase their participants'
willingness to undertake risk. Moreover, the fellowship of such groups makes
working more fun. Is this because man is a social animal, or is this why we call
man a social animal?
I always thought that working with a partner or with a few colleagues was better
than working alone, in part because I can rarely think about difficult subjects with-
out verbalizing them to someone else. I like to collaborate with someone to whom
I can express my ideas, even poorly formed ones, and from whom I can draw a
fresh look at them. The names of my companies bear witness to my need to collaborate: the Evans and Sutherland Computer Company and Sutherland, Sproull,
and Associates, Inc. I owe much to my partners in these enterprises.
2.1 Encouragement in Academia
One of the beauties of a university such as Carnegie Mellon University is that it
abounds with mechanisms to encourage people to do research. Some of these, like
formal classes, reduce the risk of learning new things. Some of them, like observing other people at work on other research tasks, can bolster a graduate student's
courage to do likewise. Others, like the traditional academic tolerance of nonconformity, reduce the social risk of entertaining new ideas.
The university provides mentors. My former student, Dan Cohen, called me for
advice nearly 15 years after getting his Ph.D., asserting that he wanted counsel
from his “faculty advisor.” I demurred, claiming that I had stopped being his advisor more than a dozen years ago. Not so, he said, “it's a tenured position.” Because
attachments between students and faculty become strong, contact with the mentors
provided by the university is valuable indeed, almost as valuable as contact with
students. I have learned far more from my students and gained more pleasure from
them than I have ever offered in return.
2.2 Formal Mechanisms
Among university classes, I find the study seminar most interesting for several reasons. Such a seminar gathers together a group with similar interests who read up
on a subject and pool their knowledge at regular meetings. By providing a series
of regular meetings and homework assignments, the study seminar provides deadlines for its participants. Working together with colleagues reduces the labor
required from each participant and makes the learning experience more pleasurable. Finally, working in a group reduces the perceived risk inherent in the new
The immigration course in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University is
one of the best examples of a formal way to help new graduate students get started.
It forces them to learn about what facilities are available, it gives them the opportunity to meet and get to know the people they may work with, and it introduces
them to the existing research projects. By providing a broad range of background
knowledge and forcing the students to do a small warm-up project, it not only
reduces the risk of learning what equipment is available and how to use it, but it
also builds confidence. I applaud the makers of the immigration course for finding
such an effective way to launch would-be researchers.
The university also offers formal mechanisms to encourage graduate students to
keep going when the going gets tough. One of these in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University is called Black Friday. As I understand it, Black Friday is
a knock-down-drag-out meeting of the faculty at which each and every graduate
student is individually discussed to detect those making inadequate progress. The
laggards are then given formal notice to move forward or leave. By increasing the
risk of inaction, the threat of Black Friday forces students to bolster their courage
and get on with their work.
My advice for a new graduate student seeking to get started in research is to join an
ongoing research group. Of course there is an opportunity cost to joining up with a
particular group: you can't then join others. But it matters far less what a new student does than that he do something. If the first two or three things don't work out,
you can always switch to another group or another project. The key thing is to get
involved in something, get some basic knowledge, and get started.
2.3 Talking and Writing
A thesis proposal can provide a starting mechanism for a thesis project: it can
serve as a guide to the proposed research. It indicates that some thought has gone
into what to do, even though the real work may not yet have started. Most important, the thesis proposal can serve as a point of discussion between proposers and
their advisors, both formal faculty advisors and student colleagues. Accepting the
thesis proposal is in and of itself a way for the faculty to encourage a student to get
on with the work. All too often, thesis proposals are an afterthought to research
already done, becoming at best an outline of the thesis document. I far prefer them
earlier as a guide to the research itself.
Academia provides mechanisms to encourage publication of which the strongest
one is known as “publish or perish.” A new, untenured faculty member must
obtain tenure or leave the university after a fixed period of time, but to obtain tenure one must publish. A journal editor I know once remarked that she sits on the
tenure committee of every university in the country.
Tenure itself can be encouraging. A young and talented friend of mine, a computer
scientist by training and a tenured professor of Computer Science at a major institution, has recently become interested in combustion. He commented to me
recently that he feels guilty for pursuing studies so far outside his departmental
boundary. I hope you share my feeling that he should follow his interests exactly
where they lead. That is, after all, precisely what tenure should encourage him to
Universities also provide a host of places where talking about research is easy.
Seminars provide a knowledgeable and usually friendly audience for new ideas.
By providing peer pressure to participate and share results, seminars can encourage students to practice talking about their work. Even in an informal seminar, the
first few presentations take an extra batch of courage, but with practice comes
familiarity and skill, a better assessment of the minimal risk, and increasing comfort. I have often seen student speakers literally shake before and during their
Practice in teaching is a good way to learn how to present ideas to groups. Graduate student teachers not only staff undergraduate classes, but also learn to speak in
public. One hopes that they do not damage the undergraduate students too badly.
Practice in writing is also valuable, starting in high school or undergraduate
English classes. All too often technical writing has to be a part of graduate education.
2.4 Informal Interactions
One of the difficult lessons of graduate school is the lesson of autonomy from the
faculty. At first, a graduate student may feel unable to question his mentors, but by
the end of graduate training, that same student will be able to take his place as a
researcher in their ranks. Graduate school is the place where the distinction
between mentor and student begins to blur, and faculty and graduate students
become colleagues.
Informal interaction between students and faculty helps students join the ranks of
full-fledged researchers. I recall playing with blocks at Claude Shannon's house
when he was my thesis supervisor. Although at the time I thought of it as recreation, and he may also have, it provided me with courage because I saw his less
daunting facets, his human side. He became my friend as well as supervisor, and
this made him more approachable and raised my confidence.
Universities encourage informal social interactions. Although some social functions may seem to be just for play, they help us get to know each other, and by
knowing each other, we become better able to share our burdens of discouragement. We provide each other with courage. Within the fellowship provided by
such social functions we can gain insight into the habits of our mentors and
friends, and can discuss ill-formed ideas that would be too risky to reveal in a more
formal context.
2.5 In Academia, it's Hard to Stop
Some academics go on and on doing the same research year after year, often as a
continuation of their thesis work. Academia seems to me deficient in mechanisms
to help people stop old and stale projects. Sometimes their sponsors withdraw
support and sometimes their peers suggest change. More often, however, academics continue working on old things, turning away only when they find newer and
more interesting projects.
2.6 Encouragement in Business
A person with the courage to start a new business is called an entrepreneur. When
I was a child, my parents offered high praise for he who was “enterprising.” By
starting several companies myself, and through my work in venture capital, I have
observed many ways that entrepreneurs work up their courage to the point where
they are ready to start a business. The most important formal mechanism, nominally intended to present the prospects of the business to the financial community,
is called the business plan. A business plan is very much like a thesis proposal. It
says what its proponents intend to do, what they plan to spend, what competition
they expect, and what return they anticipate. Its preparation requires that the entrepreneurs do the basic work that is needed to assess the business risks. Its approval
encourages the entrepreneurs to begin by providing not only the capital required,
but also the moral encouragement of the supporting investors. In effect, the business plan records the entrepreneur's estimate of the thickness of the ice.
The financial backers of an enterprise back it only after examining its prospects
with “due diligence.” Sometimes it seems to me that a plan is so obviously timely
and the entrepreneur’s ability so obviously great that little further diligence is due.
My venture capital friends, however, often forget what “due” means, and treat due
diligence as if it were a single noun denoting the collection of paper that justifies
investment in the business. They may say, “let us gather some due diligence,” and
they have files of due diligence. It seems to take due diligence about one inch
thick per million dollars invested. Ultimately, the financial backers of a new business must express their faith in the entrepreneurs and have the courage to invest.
They should exercise due diligence in making their own estimate of the thickness
of the ice.
Although business plans are rarely followed in any great detail, they are nevertheless very useful. They build courage in the entrepreneurs by letting them plan a
real business and see its potential profit. They provide a way for financial backers
to understand the proposed business, milestones for measurement of progress, a
common ground for discussing changes in plan, and a common target for both
entrepreneurs and backers to seek. The plan's real function is to endow everyone
with the courage to proceed.
It turns out that a large fraction of new businesses fail, just as a large fraction of
research ideas fail. Fortunately for our society, our collective courage keeps us
trying, even trying things that prove imprudent. Were we a more cautious lot, a
much slower pace of scientific and industrial progress would prevail. If you don't
fail regularly you are not trying hard enough things. The trouble, of course, is that
it is emotionally much harder to restart after a failure because the risks seem
clearer. This may be why the energy and enthusiasm of youth are so important in
research and in new businesses.
2.7 Business Incentives
Our system of capitalist free enterprise provides equity incentives. It is amazing to
me how effectively stock ownership motivates hard work, and more important,
how common ownership of identical stock makes people pull together. If you and
I both own the same type of stock, I can make a return if and only if you do, and
thus my objective becomes to make you rich. This is the power of the capitalist
system that raised our standard of living to the highest in the world.
In addition to stock ownership, income and bonus incentives to business people
often help keep their minds focused on their essential tasks. Commissions for
sales people are very common, probably because selling takes so much courage to
face the high risk of rejection by the potential customer. There is almost nothing I
like less than selling, particularly against competition that undoes my sales pitch as
soon as I turn my back. Amazingly, salesmen with a commission program will
keep at this difficult task; I can only conclude that they draw courage from the
commission. Presidents of companies often have bonus programs tied to the profitability of the company. Such plans let the president do well if and only if the
shareholders do well, and thus encourages him to keep the shareholders' interests
at heart.
Contracts are an essential ingredient of modern business. Contract milestones
often include partial payments and thus powerful encouragement to getting on
with the job. Contract deadlines can include penalty clauses. For example, the
repaving contract for the Golden Gate Bridge included penalty clauses of tens of
thousands of dollars per hour for delay in reopening the bridge to traffic each day.
Social incentives also work in business. I spend much of my time as a consultant
and have discovered that one of my tasks is to provide deadlines to my client's
employees. My visits provide the deadlines for “charetting it up,” for getting all of
the reports done, for getting the presentations ready, and for getting on with the
work. I can and do provide praise for good work. I like to think I have something
technical to contribute also, but even if I did not, the deadline and appraisal value
of my visits may easily make them worthwhile to my clients.
It is not accidental that the word “company” as applied to a business enterprise is
the same word that we apply to social occasions, as in “having company” or
“keeping company” or “being company.” Indeed, the Hudson's Bay Company,
chartered in May 1670, was literally called “The Governor and Company of
Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay.”
The corporate form of business as we practice it has a Board of Directors to provide policy guidance. The board is elected by the owners of the company, the
shareholders, and in turn, the board elects the officers of the company who manage
its day-to-day affairs. In a very real sense, such boards along with the corporate
officers are the Company of Adventurers who do our business. The board meets
quarterly or monthly or, if necessary, more often. My experience suggests that the
most effective boards have a measure of fellowship that helps them seek wise decisions together. When business prospects seem good, there is often humor at board
meetings. It may be that the number of jokes told at board meetings is an important, albeit unreported, leading indicator of the business climate.
2.8 Stopping a Business
Unlike academia, the capitalist system of free enterprise provides a very clear
mechanism to detect when to stop, namely lack of profits. Businesses fail when
customers refuse to purchase their products: as one of my venture capital partners
says, when “the dogs just don't like the dog food.” In fact, most businesses fail;
few succeed.
But even in business, it can take courage to stop. Investor courage is required to
withdraw support from a failing business and its employees, but support must be
withdrawn if the prospects do not warrant further investment. An investor friend
of mine said he got into a multi-million dollar unsuccessful investment “one nickel
at a time.” He couldn't stop.
Personal courage is required to admit that one's skills do not match the business
needs. I have admired two chief executives who gracefully turned over control of
their businesses to others after realizing their own inadequacy; more often the
incompetent hang on far too long. When a business fails, there are legal details to
tidy up as well as odds and ends of value to be sold. Individuals who do this well
can extract value for the owners of the business that might otherwise be lost, but it
is hard to do a good job while carrying the sense of defeat and loss of a failed business.
I think that the most subtle form of the courage to stop is to know when to sell a
security. My portfolio of investments is dear to me; they are like old friends, the
family dog, or my ancient automobile. I shudder to part with one. Nevertheless,
prudent management requires that I sell those that are not destined to be winners
and use the funds instead to buy better equities. The hard part of course, is deciding which are not to be winners. It takes courage to sell stocks, far more than it
takes to buy them.
2.9 Investment Courage
I believe that investment courage is in short supply in the United States today, individually, institutionally, and nationally. Our collective failures of courage are, I
believe, the cause of our decreasing economic success vis-à-vis our international
competition. Long-term projects take more courage than short-term ones because
the greater uncertainty of the distant future seems riskier, whether or not it really
is. Our industrial and governmental institutions are not, I believe, making the courageous long-term investments in education, training, research, development,
equipment, and infrastructure required for long-term economic strength, and as a
direct result, we are losing a global economic war.
One reason for the shortsightedness of business in the Unted States today is that
the profit sharing plans for executives consider only immediate profit and not longterm growth. Another reason for business shortsightedness is that the judgement
of shareholders about winners and losers is based on quarterly results instead of
long-term gains. Are you aware for example, that although the trading rate on the
New York Stock Exchange is slow enough to turn over all of the securities represented in about two years,1 many companies trade rapidly enough to turn over in
six months or less? I am particularly offended that pension fund holdings turn
over quite quickly even though pension funds, above all, should take a long-term
We seem unable to make the long-term investments required for economic
strength. Is this because, as some say, our cost of capital is too high? John Maynard Keynes showed that investment decisions are largely independent of the cost
of capital, but depend only on expectations of future return. Is our inability to face
long-term investment related to our uncertainty about the future of a world harboring nuclear weapons? It can't be, for other nations make long-term investments. Is
our inability to face long-term investment related to our ethnic diversity, our view
of an end to our abundant supply of raw materials, or is it a symptom of a general
breakdown in family values? I don't know the reasons, but the facts seem plain:
we lack courage, and nations with more courage are eating our lunch.
1. In 1990 there were 83,605,000,000 shares represented on the exchange with a total capital value
of about $2,814,429,000,000. About 150,000,000 shares trade each day with a value of about
We desperately need ways to encourage investors to hold onto securities for longterm gains, and by so doing, encourage them to take an interest in, indeed demand,
that their companies invest for long-term growth. We desperately need governmental investment in the intellectual infrastructure of an educated populace confident of the long-term future. We have become a “now” nation to the extent of
jeopardizing our future.
3 Self Encouragement
So much for the institutional mechanisms for helping courage surmount risk. Now
let me turn to some more personal ones. I offer the confession that I feel both inadequately equipped with these mechanisms and all too often unable to apply those I
What I find interesting about the need for personal courage in advanced technology is its elusive nature. When my courage has been strong, going forward
seemed easy; courage seemed unnecessary perhaps, even irrelevant. When my
courage has failed me, however, something else seemed to be wrong; I could
always generate many valid reasons for not moving forward. Courage and cowardice in technology have seemed to me attributes of other people. I have been
able to recognize them in myself only in hindsight and only by careful introspection.
By describing how my own failures of courage feel to me, I hope to help you recognize such failures in yourselves. I seek to encourage you. I mean that literally. I
seek to extend your courage by making you aware of your need for it and by
describing some symptoms of its failure. I will offer some ways to reduce your
need for courage, to marshal what courage you can muster, and to husband your
store of it.
3.1 Courage to Start
It's often hard to get started. I always find it hard to start a lecture and so I cover
my difficulty by telling a story. I select a story in advance, one that is relevant to
my topic, familiar enough to me so that I won't muff it, can establish common
ground with my audience, and will make them laugh. If it works, my story builds
rapport with my audience, but more important, their response encourages me, or
literally gives me the courage, to get on with my topic.
How often have you found it hard to get started on something? Have you ever
thought of that difficulty as a failure of courage? Recognizing that there are risks
in starting anything new helps reveal the difficulty of getting started as a reluctance
to overcome those risks. Recognizing that it takes courage to get started may help
in identifying the excuses you have as excuses, and not reasons.
3.2 What it Feels Like to Me
I feel many different risks in getting started. One common one is that, being ignorant in the new field, I will make a fool of myself. Many years ago when I was a
ham radio operator, poor operators were called “lids” and were viewed with some
contempt. Faced with such contempt, how was I to learn? Well, for a while I was
a lid. Poor computer programmers are likewise looked on with some contempt; I
have heard their programs described as “wedged.” Whenever we start something
new, we must risk being “lids” or writing “wedged” programs. The risk is real and
has kept many people from setting out in new directions. We prefer to continue
with familiar things because they are, on the whole, less risky than new ones.
But my failures of courage to start have never felt to me like cowardice. Rather, I
have been able to invent a host of reasons for not starting, all perfectly rational,
and all quite valid if irrelevant. There are never enough funds to start the project,
and the equipment available is never quite right. Often the programming languages available do not suit the need, especially if the procrastinator happens to be
expert at making programming languages and can fix the problem by doing something familiar rather than getting on with the main task. Are you merely building
tools or are you doing something directly productive?
Everything we do has an opportunity cost of other things not done. I often use that
cost as a reason for procrastination, thinking that I am too busy, or that the investment of my time to learn something new is too great. It took me a long time to
work up the courage to face a drawing program on my personal computer because
I was just too busy to “take the time.” While I was learning the drawing program I
would not be meeting any of the hundred other demands on my time. In retrospect, I wish I had learned the drawing program earlier, for not only has it given
me great pleasure, but also it has permitted me to explore some geometric ideas I
would not otherwise have been able to consider. It is all too easy to overemphasize
opportunity cost as a cover for fear; the truth is that I avoided learning to use the
drawing program simply because it was unfamiliar and I risked frustration and
failure. I may have been more sensitive to this risk than some of you might be,
because I achieved some fame from writing an early drawing program [7]. It
would be especially embarrassing for me if I should ask dumb questions about a
drawing program.
My unwillingness to learn new things, risking frustration or failure, is related to
another familiar phenomenon. People love their home towns, the model of car that
they drive, the type of computer they already own, and are especially fond of the
text editor most familiar to them, especially EMACS. We base these loyalties not
on comparative analysis, but on our hidden fears of the unknown. Make no mistake, it takes courage to learn a new computer program—you face the risk of frustration at least, and seeming stupid if you ask dumb questions. By the way, for
some time now I have been far too busy to learn “Excel.”
3.3 Overcoming Risks
One start-up aid I have often used is ignorance; to use this approach I avoid ever
measuring the thickness of the ice. I have often been told that it was a very courageous act to start the Evans and Sutherland company. Had the company failed, it
might have been called foolish rather than courageous, but it certainly didn't feel
courageous to me at the time. I simply had no idea of the risk I was undertaking. I
believe that before people have children they have little idea of the risks or they
might never start. Raising a family is a courageous act, but only for those who
know how hard it is. One of the wonders of graduate students is that they haven't
yet learned all of the things that can't be done, and so they are willing and able to
do some of them.
A warm-up project is very helpful in getting any new research going. Do something fairly easy and carry it all the way through from beginning to end. When I
was a new graduate student at MIT in 1961, I did a project on solving arbitrary
wall mazes by computer. It involved a few thousand lines of computer program
and some simple equipment. Later on, my warm-up project saved me time in my
thesis work by helping me avoid problems that I had solved before.
More important, my warm-up project gave me valuable experience and the courage that comes with experience. After finishing it, I knew that I could write a complex computer program and make it work. My warm-up project encouraged me to
go on to the larger programming task involved in thesis work [7] and it encouraged
my sponsors to support the more complex project. My point is that a warm-up
project not only teaches, but also encourages. Some universities, including MIT,
even require a Master's thesis, a formal warm-up project, before the student
embarks on a Ph.D. Remember, “programs are like pancakes– throw the first one
3.4 Procedures
I used to hate washing dishes. I would delay as long as possible. Eyeing the
daunting pile of dishes, I would say to myself, “I'll be here forever at this dumb
task.” The enormity of the task deterred me from starting. I still dislike washing
dishes, but I now get the dishes done promptly because I learned a simple procedure for doing the job from my wife's uncle. The procedure starts out “Wash first
dish...” I have a similar procedure for starting travel vouchers, it goes “Record
first expense...”
Each of my little procedures embodies two different aids to getting started. By
invoking a familiar procedure I reduce my need for courage. By breaking the task
into smaller tasks through emphasizing that only the first dish need be washed or
the first expense need be recorded, I reduce my estimate of risk. Both mechanisms
work. These sources of courage are sometimes called “discipline,” especially
when being taught to the young. Discipline relies on a practiced use of routine
subgoals to avoid defeat by fear. Its highest form comes when the Lieutenant,
charging up a heavily defended hill, says, “Follow me men!”—and they do.
3.5 Courage to Go On
“When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping,” is the caption to a cartoon
mocking all inveterate shoppers. Its humor comes from our certainty that when
the going gets tough, it takes courage to go on rather than to go shopping.
3.6 What it Feels Like to Me
When I get bogged down in a project, the failure of my courage to go on never
feels to me like a failure of courage, but always feels like something entirely different. One such feeling is that my research isn't going anywhere anyhow, it isn't
that important. Another feeling involves the urgency of something else. I have
come to recognize these feelings as “who cares” and “the urgent drives out the
For me, the urgent often takes the form of a crowded desk that must be cleared.
All those letters to write, a timesheet to bring up to date, bills to pay, checkbook to
balance, personal computer disk to back up, and a host of other easy little routine
tasks are available to help me avoid the difficult big task at hand. Another sense I
have is of the abundance of time remaining to think about the major research task;
after all, the due date for my report is a year or more away. The other tasks with
closer time horizons seem more urgent and thus should get more attention. I cower
behind my routine little tasks to avoid the risks of failure associated with working
on my main projects.
If your research feels less important than other tasks, examine your courage. Your
research may indeed be unimportant, and it's OK to abandon projects as unsuccessful. In fact, I believe it takes courage to abandon projects. To remain in
research, however, you must substitute some other research task for the abandoned
one and not simply involve yourself in trivia, however urgent. When examined
critically, the urgency of the little tasks is never so great as I suppose, nor is the
risk of the big tasks so overwhelming. Many successful researchers recognize that
and refuse to let the urgent drive out the important: Alan Newell of Carnegie Mellon University and Fred Brooks of the University of North Carolina come to my
mind as examples; they share an admirable ability to decline trivia.
3.7 Overcoming Risks
The inability to produce a new idea is a special risk in research. I have found that
a change of scene helps to gel my thoughts on a new subject. I escape from the
local pressures by going far away in an airplane, or not so far to a quiet library, or
even closer to the seclusion of my study, particularly early in the morning. The
important thing about all these retreats for me is that I can cast aside the urgent
problems; the phone won't ring, the checkbook can't be balanced, and I can focus
on my larger tasks with a fresh mind. After each of two extended “vacations” in
Australia, I returned with patentable ideas [8, 9], and on a third such trip developed
a new algorithm for building vector quantization code books [13]. I sometimes
jokingly start out describing these ideas by saying, “When I was lying on the
beach...” The combination of a change of location, rest, and lack of distraction
seems to be effective for me. Some universities formalize such changes as sabbatical leave.
This kind of change of scene works locally too. Enjoy letting off steam with your
family or your drinking buddies. Perhaps it will give you a fresh viewpoint on your
technical problems or at least more courage to face them. I have often “helped”
friends debug their computer programs merely by asking for an explanation of
how the program works. Midway through the explanation, my friend will strike
his head and say, “Oh, that's the bug.” I did nothing but provide the encouragement for one more look at how the program was supposed to work.
Pride offers personal encouragement. We all have pride in a job well done. I often
feel like the child learning to tie his own shoes determined to do it himself. I think,
“I'll show them that I can do it,” so strongly that I must work hard at my task to satisfy my own pride. Take pride in your work.
When the going gets tough, discipline is another good mechanism for going on.
My algorithm for washing dishes continues with the sequence “...WHILE dishes
remain, DO wash next dish...” Notice again the two aids offered by this procedure.
First, it makes the task routine; I have a known procedure to apply. Second, it limits the task to considering only the next dish, thus reducing my perception of the
Effective novelists write for several hours every day, successful musicians practice
several hours every day, and successful athletes train several hours every day.
Should not a successful researcher discipline himself to research for several hours
every day? The novelist writes a chapter a day, the musician does his scales and
his selections each day, and the athlete does his setting up exercises and his main
event. Each uses routine subtasks. I believe which particular routine sub tasks you
choose are far less important than that you discipline yourself to do them regularly.
My technology heroes have the courage to devote a period each day to the important tasks, leaving the merely urgent ones to fester if necessary.
You can set your own personal deadlines and provide yourself rewards for meeting
them. This mechanism works less well for me, but I do sometimes use it, often in
the most childish way. If I work hard today, I'll permit myself a drink before dinner or dessert afterwards. In fact, I find that when I am really engaged in interesting work I forget to eat, but when my work is overly stressful, I gain weight.
Do not overlook family and friends as an explicit source of encouragement. Affection from family and friends can provide confidence to face the world outside. A
great man once said to me, “Get your priorities right: family, friends, business, in
that order.” Another great man told me, “If things aren't right at home, nothing is
right.” I find that I am best able to do creative work when I feel cared for and
happy; it is as if I can devote my finite store of courage either to solving technical
problems or personal ones, but not both at once.
3.8 Courage to Talk or Write
Perhaps the hardest part of research is talking about it, writing about it and publishing it. Here we really get down to the big risks. When all is said and done, will
my reputation outlast my publishing this very paper? Suppose someone thinks that
my ideas about courage are bad. Suppose I am criticized for them. Suppose my
writing is inadequate or unacceptable. In truth, it's often easier to start a project or
get on with it than it is to present the results. Robert Heinlein, author of Stranger
In a Strange Land, said in an editorial on professional authorship that you have to
send stories, articles, and novels to editor after editor and risk rejection slips or
you'll never get published. I know several unpublished authors of incomplete novels. There is less risk in “writing the great American novel” than in sending it to a
publisher and waiting for it to be rejected.
3.9 What it Feels Like to Me
My own failures of courage to talk or write do not, to me, seem like failures of
courage at all. Rather, it seems to me that my ideas are unworthy, that no one
would be interested, or that they are not yet well enough expressed. Recall the
maze solving work I did in 1960 as a warm-up project. I was so sure no one would
care about it that I never “bothered” to publish it until 1969 [5]. It turned out that
my 1960 work drew questions even many years after publication, so someone
must have cared.
This very talk is another example for me. The chronology of this paper is shown
in Table 1 on the next page. I first began to think about these ideas in the mid 70’s,
but it took me until 1982 to first express them publicly. I wouldn't have done that
except that my good friend, Marc Raibert, invited me to give an informal talk to
some new graduate students. That being a low risk event, I agreed. Next thing I
knew the “informal talk” had turned into a “distinguished lecture” complete with
TV camera and an auditorium full of people, but I was committed, and I talked.
Six years later, I finally worked up the courage to get the video tape transcribed. I
was, and still am, literally too afraid to look at it myself. Now, two more years
later, I am writing the ideas down more formally.
September 16, 1982
First presented as a distinguished lecture
at CMU
Publication suggested by my daughter,
Video tape obtained from CMU
April 8, 1988
Transcribed from the video tape
January 28, 1990
Edited into this paper
June 1990
Published by CMU
September 1990
Presented at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Computer Science Department
at CMU
Table 1: Chronology
of This Document
My pride demands that this written form of my ideas be perfect. I sought long and
hard for an Anglo-Saxon word combining the ideas of disclose, publish, report,
and talk about. I have finally chosen the compound “talk or write” to mean all of
them, focusing most on public oral presentation, for it seems to take the most courage. I fear criticism of my choice. In addition, I fear that you will think my ideas
irrelevant, stupid, or even wrong. I fear coming to an end of this work; at some
point I shall have to release this paper to the publisher and I will have lost a good
But in both of these failures of my courage, during my procrastinating period I did
not feel afraid. Rather, I believed simply that no one would be interested; my ideas
seemed unimportant, irrelevant, and immaterial. I'm still reasonably sure no one
will care about my ideas on courage, but my deadline approaches.
Who among my audience has unpublished work that “no one will care about?”
Who among my audience has a paper partly written but not yet "quite right?" Who
the hell are you to judge? The rule for research is that you get credit only for ideas
you have disclosed, not for ideas kept secret. It is absolutely true that the paper
never submitted is never rejected, but of course, it is never published, either. I
believe that it is better to be the published author of a slightly flawed document
than the unpublished author of a perfect one.
Because I spell in original ways and my handwriting is illegible, writing has
always been a great embarrassment to me. When I got a typewriter half of the
problem went away; long ago I learned to type faster than I can write by hand.
With a computer spelling checker that will make suggestions I am even better off,
but not yet free of risk. I remember well when Claude Shannon, my thesis supervisor, chastised me for spelling the top to bottom measurement of an electrical wave
form “peek to peek” rather than “peak to peak.” I had put, as my Victorian aunt
used to say, “a blot in my copybook.” Even today, I'm not sure which spelling is
which and had to look them up in a dictionary because my spelling checker cannot
distinguish cognates. I also once spelled naval incorrectly in a letter to my brother
who was then in the Naval Reserve. Unfortunately, I put that blot on the outside of
the envelope.
3.10 Overcoming Risks
It may be that everyone is embarrassed by his own writing, especially at the start.
That courage to get a paper done is made up of a subcourage to start and a subcourage to go on, and a subcourage to stop perfecting it. The hardest part of writing
seems to be getting the first rough draft. Of course it won’t be perfect. Of course
it won’t be complete. But at least a first draft gives you something to work with
and can encourage you to go on. Apply everything you have learned here to the
task of getting that first draft.
I have learned three tricks that make talking and writing easier. First, J. C. R.
Licklider taught me to treat an unfamiliar topic by making lists of things to say. I
call this kind of presentation the “enumeration special.” For example, in this paper
I describe four kinds of courage: to start, to go on, to talk or write, and to stop. The
enumeration special is effective, though trite. Second, my late mother offered
advice on the choice of words in English, pointing out that Anglo-Saxon words
have more punch than Roman ones. Just try to think of a Roman swear word.
Unfortunately, technologists seem to think that polysyllabic circumlocutions are
better than short words. Pick Anglo-Saxon names for things and they will last.
Third, because English was spoken long before it was written, good English writing is always easy to read out loud. I am always suspicious of single words or
phrases placed in parenthesis because they have no spoken equivalent. Examine
each use of the symbols "(" and ")" in your papers. Do they destroy your ability to
read the writing out loud? Could you rephrase what you have to say in plain
English, for example, by using a phrase instead of a single word in parenthesis? I
suspect that parentheses creep into English writing when the author is either too
lazy or too muddled to write down exactly what he means.
Different types of publications are available to document ideas. Every technical
organization has an internal report series. Technical material for a wider audience
appears in conference proceedings, journal articles, or books. However, I have
found greatest value from the least formal type of publication possible, informal
memos. My group at Harvard in 1966 named its series of internal memos the “display file,” a pun not only on the name of the part of computer memory that stores
the output picture but also on the open file cabinet in which we kept these memos
for easy access by any member of our group. My associates and I have used display file memos ever since to record new ideas, new mathematical formulations,
new circuits, and anything else that strikes our fancy, including local procedures
for ordering lunch. Our series of display file memos has become my archive of
familiar things from the past, an archive to which I turn from time to time for
reminders. Some of them have later become patents, some full-fledged papers, and
some portions of books. Initially, however, each was just my record of some little
idea not always well expressed.
3.11 Learning from Others
Although it obviously takes courage to expose your ideas to criticism, it takes even
more courage to learn from the criticism. The not-invented-here (NIH) syndrome
is rampant in technology. People cling to their own ideas. Naturally, you and I
don't do that, it's just that our ideas, like our favorite text editor, are better than others.
A good way to learn clearly from what others say to you is to play back their words
immediately to them. I used this mechanism with the industrial sponsors of the
Silicon Structures Project at Caltech. Twice a year we presented our results at a
two day sponsor's meeting. We used the last half day as a feedback session where
each sponsor's representative made comments about our work. I took careful
notes. After each sponsor had spoken, I played back what I thought he had said.
The sponsors liked the immediate feedback because they knew that I had heard
their comments and because they got a chance to correct my notes. I learned this
trick in a class on domestic relations, but it serves well in nearly any context.
3.12 Courage to Stop
The risk of stopping work on a project is also large. First, there's the loss of the
goal you will never reach. Second, there's a loss of face in giving up a task in
which you have believed. Third, there's the waste of the time you have already
invested in the project and the knowledge about it you have gained. Fourth, there
is the criticism you may face for having wasted the investment. Finally, there is
the risk of having to find something new to do.
3.13 What it Feels Like to Me
Failures to stop don't feel like failures of courage to me. Rather they feel like I'm
still “doing my thing.” I'm involved with the people and they have become meaningful to me. I know the vocabulary. Success, it seems, is always just a month or
two away. I know that with just a little more effort, we can make something really
good. The incremental reward always seems to outweigh the incremental effort.
3.14 Overcoming Risks
Ted Meyer and I once noticed that every architecture for a computer display system can be improved for just a little more money [6]. This kind of observation
offers a reason to stop a research program because it has proven to be recursive.
Another example of a good reason to stop is that you are proven wrong. Martin
Newell and I once spent days trying to prove a geometry theorem until we discovered a counter example. No wonder it was so hard to prove.
I stopped doing graphics research just after Bob Sproull, Bob Schumacker, and I
wrote A Characterization of Ten Hidden Surface Algorithms [3]. We discovered
that the task of computing which surfaces of a solid object are hidden and which
are visible is a sorting problem. Moreover, we were able to build a taxonomy for
hidden surface algorithms on the basis of the types of sorting used and the order of
variables sorted. Realizing that new hidden surface algorithms would merely be
elaborations on sorting killed my interest in the problem. Since then, of course,
younger and more courageous people have made ever more beautiful pictures at a
pace I cannot hope to match. Maybe the truth is that I stopped for lack of courage
to compete; I don't think so, but I'll never know.
4 Rewards
4.1 The Emotional Side of Research
One of the greatest thrills for me is when a new idea emerges. In 1986, at Imperial
College in London, I was working with complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuits. I was attempting to design circuits that would
operate very fast, but I had inadequate computer support for simulating them.
Because I couldn't simulate the circuits, I had to think about the problem instead.
Fortunately for me, the circuits I was working on used a lot of Muller C elements
and XOR gates, both of which are symmetric with respect to ones and zeros at
input and output. Because of this symmetry, I began to notice that my logic gates
behaved as amplifiers, and that the more complex a logic gate was, the less good it
was at amplification. The simplest inverter makes the best amplifier. It seemed as
though each gate had only so much ability to exert “effort” and could put that
effort either into amplification or into doing logic, but not both.
Once I understood the idea, I gave it the obvious name: “logical effort.” Using the
idea of logical effort, and without going to the trouble of optimizing them, I can
predict quite accurately the least possible delay for most CMOS logic circuits, literally on the back of an envelope. If the optimum circuit is required, I can easily
compute the transistor sizes required for least delay. More important, I can decide
how to change the topology of the circuit to reduce overall delay.
I want to describe what it felt like to make this discovery. I had worked on the
problem for some months, designing many circuits. About a week before I finally
understood and was able to name logical effort, I began to sense a distinct and
strong feeling that there was an important idea to be found. I can only describe the
feeling as smelling the idea inside the complexity. Much as a dog is sure a bone is
buried beneath the earth, I was sure there was something simple and beautiful
beneath the complexity of my task; I had but to dig it out.
But the idea wasn't captured until I wrote a very crude paper about the idea for my
friend and colleague, Bob Sproull. Bob, I was sure, would be able both to understand the still slightly vague idea, and to help enunciate it. Moreover, I was sure
that he would not dump criticism on me. From then on, it was all much easier.
The very name, logical effort, captured the essential feature of the idea. Bob and I
formulated the idea, that is, expressed it as a formula, as the ratio of the electrical
capacitance at the input of the logic gate to the current at its output normalized to
the corresponding ability of an inverter. This ratio turns out also to express how
much slower than an inverter each type of gate will be if driving a gate identical to
itself. More complex logic gates turn out to have higher logical effort; the theory
quantifies how much higher. My second paper on the subject was more understandable, and with subsequent exposure to a number of students, Bob and I have
made the idea of logical effort very easy to teach. We are now trying to work up
the courage to finish our book on the subject. Naturally it feels as though we do
not have the time.2
Those of us who come after and have the advantage of previous discovery often
forget just how hard those discoveries were. When Steinmetz first used imaginary
numbers to describe alternating current, only very few people understood the
required math. Now every undergraduate electrical engineer becomes familiar
with the square root of minus one, although they spell it j, rather than i, as mathematicians do. Many of my young friends at Apple Computer know the Gouraud
shading [10] and Phong shading [11] algorithms. When I asked them who Gouraud
and Phong were, none knew that both were graduate students at the time of their
discoveries, nor even thought of them as real people. Certainly they don't remember, as I do, how hard we thought it would be to make beautiful pictures by computer before Gouraud and Phong. It's always much easier in hindsight. Indeed, I
think of scientific progress as the reduction of subjects from complete mystery to
teachable form.
2. 1995 update: Still no book, but we did publish a paper [14] on the subject.
The best personal sources of courage are self confidence and comfort with yourself
and your peers. In some people, these develop early. In others, they never appear.
If you can find things that bolster your own self confidence, you can use them to
good effect. I find that I have only so much room for taking risks. When I can
reduce the risk in some places in my life, I can more easily face risk in other areas.
I provide myself the courage to do some things by reducing my need for courage in
other areas. In effect, I husband my courage.
Technology as Play
The basic personal start-up mechanism for research has to be curiosity. I find
myself curious about how something works, or I observe something strange and
begin to explore it. Because I am fond of symmetry, when I observe some simple
symmetry, I am almost inexorably drawn into exploring it. For example, one day
Don Oestreicher, who was then a graduate student, and I noticed that the number
of random wires expected to cross the midsection of an N terminal printed circuit
board is N/4 independent of whether the wires connect two or three terminals on
the board. This comes about because although the probability of crossing is higher
for wires connecting three terminals, 3/4 rather than 1/2, the number of wires is
correspondingly reduced from N/2 to N/3. This simple observation led us to
explore other wiring patterns, gather some data from real printed circuit boards,
and eventually to publish a paper [4] called How Big Should a Printed Circuit
Board Be? Follow your curiosity.
Beauty provides another form of personal encouragement for me. Some of the
products of research are just pretty, although mathematicians prefer to use the
word “elegant.” The simplicity of E=MC 2, the elegance of information theory,
and the power of an undecidability proof are examples. I got interested in asynchronous circuits by discovering a very simple form of first in first out (FIFO) storage that has rather complete symmetry [1,8]. It simply amazes me that my simple
and symmetric circuit can “know” which way to pass data forward. The beauty
itself piques my curiosity and flatters my pride.
Simplicity is to be valued in research results. Many students ask, “How long
should my thesis be?” It would be better for them to ask, “How short can it be?”
The best work is always simply expressed. If you find something simple to
explore, do not turn it aside as trivial, especially if it appears to be new. In a very
real sense, research is a form of play in which ideas are our toys and our objective
is the creation of new castles from the old building block set. The courage to do
research comes in part from our attraction to the simplicity and beauty of our creations.
I, for one, am and will always remain a practicing technologist. When denied my
minimum daily adult dose of technology, I get grouchy. I believe that technology
is fun, especially when computers are involved, a sort of grand game or puzzle
with ever so neat parts to fit together. I have turned down several lucrative administrative jobs because they would deny me that fun. If the technology you do isn't
fun for you, you may wish to seek other employment. Without the fun, none of us
would go on.
I tried to capture the spirit of research as a game in my paper about our walking
robot [2]. Unfortunately, the editors removed from my paper all of the personal
comments, the little poem about the robot by Claude Shannon, the pranks and
jokes, and in short, the fun. The only fun they left was the title: Footprints in the
Asphalt. All too often, technical reports are dull third person descriptions of something far away and impersonal. Technology is not far away and impersonal. It's
here, it's intensely personal, and it's great fun.
5 Acknowledgements
This is where I get to recognize my friends, my sponsors and my sources of
encouragement. Thanks to Sara Kiesler whose critical reading was key in making
this paper presentable. Thanks to my partners in business, Dave Evans and Bob
Sproull, for a lifetime of intellectual stimulation and friendship. Special thanks to
my brother, Bert Sutherland, who has both taught and encouraged me since we
were boys. I also thank my children, Juliet and Dean, and the few other close
friends without whose encouragement I would not have been willing to talk or
write about these ideas. The work reported here was supported by Sutherland,
Sproull, and Associates, Inc., independent consultants in computer hardware and
software, and by Advanced Technology Ventures, private investors in high technology start-up companies.
[1] Sutherland, I.E. "Micropipelines." Communications of the ACM. June 1989.
[2] Sutherland, I.E., and Ullner, M.K. "Footprints in the Asphalt." The International Journal of Robotics Research. Vol. 3, No. 2. Summer 1984, MIT Press.
[3] Sutherland, I.E., Sproull, R.F., and Schumacker, R.A. "A Characterization of
Ten HiddenSurface Algorithms." Computing Surveys: Journal of the ACM. March
1974. Summarized in Naval Research Reviews. June 1975, pp. 21-23.
[4] Sutherland, I.E., and Oestreicher, D. "How Big Should a Printed Circuit Board
Be?" IEEE Transactions of Computers. Vol. C22, May 1973, pp. 537-542.
[5] Sutherland, I.E. "A Method of Solving Arbitrary Wall Mazes by Computers."
IEEE Transactions on Computers. Vol. C18, No. 12, December 1969, pp. 10921097.
[6] Myer, T.H., and Sutherland, I.E. "On the Design of Display Processors." Communications of the ACM. June 1968, Vol. 11, No. 6, pp. 410-414.
[7] Sutherland, I.E. "Sketchpad—A ManMachine Graphical Communication System." Proceedings of the Spring Joint Computer Conference, Detroit, Michigan.
May 1963, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory Technical Report #296, January 1963.
[8] Sutherland, I.E. "Asynchronous First-In-First-Out Register Structure." United
States Patent 4,837,740, June 6, 1989.
[9] Sutherland, I.E. "Reaction Control Valve." United States Patent 4,622,992.
November 18, 1986.
[10] Gouraud, H. "Computer Display of Curved Surfaces." University of Utah,
UTEC-CSc-71-113. June 1971, and in IEEE Transactions C-20, 623, June 1971.
[11] Phong, B.T. "Illumination for Computer-generated Images." University of
Utah, UTEC-CSc-73-129, July 1973, and in CACM, 18(6):311:317, June 1975.
[12] May, Rollo. The Courage to Create. Bantam Books, New York, 1975.
[13] Sutherland, I.E. and Sproull, R. "Comparison for Codebook Generation Techniques for Vector Quantization."
[14] Sutherland, I. E. and Sproull, R. "Logical Effort. Designing for Speed on the
Back of an Envelope," IEEE Advanced Research in VLSI, C. Sequin, ed. MIT
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[15] Sutherland, I.E. "Technology and Courage," CMU Compter Science. A 25th
Anniversary Commemorative. Ed. Rashid, R. ACM Press, 1991. Technology and
Courage is also available on the World Wide Web.
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