Waking Up

Woke up this morning with a terrible headache not knowing where I was and how late. I did not recognize the room and also noticed I did not sleep alone: it could not have been that bad yesterday… While slowly recovering I remembered I had stayed New Year’s Eve with friends in the Northern part of the Netherlands where it’s always cold and windy, the houses suffer from the increasing number of earthquakes and the people were still eating potatoes every day.

I spend the evening before talking and drinking about our lives, politics and achievements (as far as we had them) and ended the evening drinking champagne and toasting on what 2017 could bring us. We, all around sixty years old, came together every year on New Year’s Eve to talk with each other and I realized waking up that our view on the world had never been as negative as this time and our ambitions had also never been so low.

Although everybody was talking about disruption nowadays society was making things not easier for us and telling us all the time what to do and what not to do: almost all things we liked to do were under discussion: drinking alcohol, celebrate “Sinterklaas” (a Dutch children’s festivity), Christmas and making a firework at midnight on New Year’s Eve. While we were young in the sixties we were fighting for our liberty and wanted more freedom and now we were defending old values, funny how things can change…

While shaving I suddenly realized myself we did not talk about our goals or objectives like we did when we were young. What happened to us we were now so negative and low on our ambitions? When I was 14 years old in 1969 my father woke me up at night to watch the first men walking on the: a life changing experience for me! At that moment, I thought it would be possible to walk on the moon also. Over the years I understood this was not a realistic ambition. But why not define a new ambition I thought while shaving?

Walking downstairs for breakfast I decided that I would start finding a new ambition for 2017 and would call this “The Moon Project”. Downstairs I found all sitting around the kitchen table having breakfast and started asking questions but did not get answers back I did not expect. Driving back home that afternoon I decided I needed to broaden my scope and first further investigate the first moon landing, what made this so successful and why can’t we do this again  easily? Having done something should make it easy to repeat 48 years later seen the current status of technology.

The next morning I did a quick scan on the Internet on what was the most crusial succes factor for the Apollo project and was triggered by the role of Margaret Hamilton, the MIT lead software engineer who was responsible for the writing the software code. Without this code it would not have been possible to land safely on the moon. At the end of 2016 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama for her work, not only for the Apollo Project but also because she invented the concept of software engineering.

Just three minutes before the Apollo Moon lander landed on the Moon several computer alarms were triggered. The Moon lander computer was overloaded with interrupts caused by an incorrectly power supply to the lander’s rendezvous radar. Hamilton’s software indicated “executive overflows”, meaning the computer could not complete all of its tasks in the available time and had to postpone some of them. The software allowed the computer to cope with this problem by prioritising the tasks to be completed and doing only the most important ones. . Hamilton’s priority alarm warned the astronauts there was an emergency and executed the crucial tasks without blocking the system. Always wandered why it took so long before they came out of the Apollo: the board computer still had to execute the taks not yet done…

Maybe that’s our problem, I thought, we are doing to much and can’t really prioritise, that’s why we have such a poor outcome as society. What the Apollo case learned me is that it’s not enough to have an ambition and clear goal which is easily to communicate but you need also to have the right people with the right mindset and skills to execute the tasks. If one of the two is missing you will not realise your objectives.