Friday, 30 January 2009

Thunderbirds and flight of Hermes

I was recently flying to India from Europe and passed over the expanse of Saudi Arabian desert sands.  The first evidence of this was the change in light and then the gradual build up of a yellow hue  in the upper atmosphere as the ground changed from green to golden brown contours.  I looked across the vast expanse of sands and in the landscape you could just make out sparse small villages that appeared to be literally in the middle of no where with just one or two winding roads leading to the habitation. It was clear from the air I had passed over some kind of transition from the west to the east and this very visible geographical boundary was an impressive reminder.     But it reminded me of the other things going on in my thoughts on how such extremes of environment and the human responses to these challenges could be realized.   In what appeared impossible odds and locations how could solutions be achieved to build and manage these worlds when compared to the minuscule physical size of the tools, transport vehicles and resources to master these vast expanses.  It reminded me of a phrase I had pick up in a previous trip to America  that included a visit to Amazon at their headquarters in Seattle a few weeks previous when I had heard the term "Planet Scale Systems" for the first time that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise with the realization of the ambition and scope of the statement.   It spoke of the ability of what its takes to make a stage that enabled a new capability that was at such a scale that it would be big enough to redefine the environment and experience.

This was never more made apparent with the simply mind boggling investment in Dubai in the stop off on the way to India . In the space of 20 years Dubai had built new "landmasses in the sea" to fulfil a dream of a new capability in architecture, commerce, and national statement of pride.  What was originally just an expanse had been terraformed and engineered to shape new buildings, locations and services that hitherto would not have been conceivable a mere generation earlier.

I see this as an emergence of a new kind of thinking, a new methodology in which the parameters of the problem are not just within the four walls of a the existing room or the inventory of current resources with their inbuilt constraints and solutions.  It is evidence that our engineering has grown and continues to grow to match the challenges and dreams.   They look at the expanse of possibilities and describe the upper limits of what needs to be designed and to go forward and build a machine or a device that could match these huge performance metrics. What could hold us back in the thinking and ambitious was nothing more than the ability to think these ideas.

I often thought when looking at the fantasy TV program of "International Rescue" where was the Thunderbird1 and Thunderbird2  in real life to come to the rescue in extreme events?  Why could we not have machines that were capable of meeting the speed , lifting , distance and performance when ordinary flight and transport was wanting and undersized.    How do we develop a craft that would be able to move effortlessly and pick out the small island in the expanse, to be able to capture vast resources and to control and leverage these to built capabilities.
Clearly there are limitations in the maturity of the technology and funds but that does not mean that the possibilities of meeting the challenge is unreachable, its a matter of invention and scale.  The parallels were obvious when the scope of possible solutions become far reaching and the possibility to change the way we measure our selves from mastering the physical constraints to the new metrics of delivered capability and use anywhere.  

This is never more pressing in times of extreme parameters in the global climate and our economic fortunes when the ability to think big and bring new solutions is essential to redefine the outcomes of our future. 

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