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All Great Truths Begin As Blasphemies

If you would care, my friend, to look into the careers of the notable "movers and shakers" of the last 400 years in the West, an unprecedented age of science and technology, you will find a curious parade of tinkerers, yes tinkerers. Among the first of these, the first in accomplishments and reputation, was the famous and infamous Galileo, the acknowledged founder and father of our scientific, material, enviable way of life. He rattled the Renaissance world by following his own hunches and inclinations, tinkered with his "new-fangled' (Shakespeare) telescope, his weights and measures, his novel, too novel innovations. Somewhat inadvertently, he shook and loosened the fetters with which Ptolemy and Aristotle, and parts of the Bible had chained received wisdom for centuries. Aristotle's grip on the culture was similar to that of a mesmerizing, unavoidable obsession, like Star Trek. Since the Church dominated every corner of the calendar, Galileo was bound to lose the contest, finally capitulating, silenced for life under house arrest. During those years, the tolerant Church allowed him much room for debate, separating the Book of God's Work (Nature, which could be examined ) from the Book of God's Word (The Bible, which could not). Having improved his telescope by tinkering, refining the components, he saw the moons of Jupiter spinning around that planet, showed this to the Pope, thus eventually toppling Ptolemy, Aristotle and the geo-centric heavens. He paved the way for other adventurous spirits: Tycho Brahe, Giordano Bruno, Copernicus, Kepler. These "Trekkies" didn't merely study astronomy- they were astronomy following their own stars. Similar dances were being attempted in all the other "callings" that were hoping to become sciences, even though it would take time, for the times allowed them to only "see through a glass darkly."
 
The tinkering habit ambled along in Newton's England, which was leading Europe towards more science, being largely free from restraints due to stronger Parliaments and such influential cultural institutions as Cambridge University and the Royal Society, both magnets for "free" intellectuals, for wandering, enquiring minds. Newton's credentials are legendary, but it came to pass that much of his great work came to him after the plague closed his school, Cambridge, for two years. Residing with his mother in the countryside, he brooded upon and hatched astonishing insights, they say, while sitting under an apple tree. It is most peculiar that of the billions of humans hit by falling objects, why is it, why does only one pronounce "gravity" at work? Eccentric destiny? Those two years revealed more startling notions before he returned to "normal "schooling, which, compared to the fruitful interlude at home, was mostly mundane, or worse. Outside of school (our hidden topic ), Newton fiddled with and improved his telescope, dabbled with the speed of light and sound, following his fancies wherever his whims led him.
                                 
The subject, the inspiration, for this profile, for which all the above is a preparation, is our graduate Hector Kearns (DEL 03). After Del, he attempted to embrace York University for her bequests in the Computer Science forum. However, fascination dwindled as he dropped out before the end of the semester "due to lack of interest" and, not inadvertently, joined a more select, but scattered band, the Tinkerers. He noted pointedly, "My approach to learning was always self-directed," that is, outside the classroom. He began as a courier driver and at a metal shop in Etobicoke, and then picked up a contract at Sick Kids Hospital (information services) for two years. The technological flood commenced as he gleaned a rapid harvest from elite companies in rapid succession: Hydro One, CBC, Shaw Media, CIBC and BMO, culminating in the creation of his own company, Kearns Technology, a mere seven years after leaving Del. Asked recently about his future plans (he is still a young man at 35), he replied, "I'm always  tinkering with things, and what seems like a crazy idea often works out." This "approach" lands Hector in the mainstream of the famous, classical "eccentrics" who have dabbled in "improvements" over the centuries, outside the classroom, Galileo leading the way. But the gifts bestowed on such thinkers rarely fall from the heavens, so most of us must stay in the classroom to succeed. Still, our topic requires us to notice the supremely successful innovators of our day who also left school early, without a degree, to dabble with things. Elon Musk dropped out of Queens, no degree. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, no degree. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, no degree. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, no degree. The world's richest man, if that counts, Jeff Bezos, did graduate from Princeton with an engineering degree but started his empire by selling books. He founded Amazon in 1994 in his garage.
 
So Hector, too, is among the visionaries who "could look at a rockpile and visualize a beautiful cathedral." Accordingly, he divided his company into three distinct entities that between them manage complex businesses, create industrial safety procedures of widespread utility and in the far North (Nunavut and the Yukon) truly tinkered on a grand scale. He alone saw possible "cathedrals," inaugurating desperately needed networks integrating businesses, banks, communities, and municipalities, all woven closely with Dell, Microsoft and other partners. This integration was begging to be created, needing only a tinkerer to coax it into fruition. It lives now, showing much promise after waiting too long for the magician.

By what alchemy did Del transform an irregular unpolished stone into a sparkling gem, an astute learner? This is an invaluable process, indeed the true goal of all education, to create a live and lively intellect from unformed matter. Well, we asked the man himself, and he gave us a bounty of useful wisdom not generally considered mainstream, which should always be avoided if possible, for it is the eccentrics who move us along, as Shaw declared. In his own words, Hector said that Del "taught me the skills to be an independent, self-directed learner, to adapt to all sorts of work environments, and to work well and closely with all kinds of people." If we read the biographies of the most successful people, we will surely recognize the profile. Hector continues: "The computer classes helped guide me into a career dominated by knowledge transfer of highly technical concepts." He lived in the computer lab enjoying "a ton of fun learning about the possible applications of technology." When we asked about his future plans (considering his youth-still only 36, and the growing success of his companies), he replied, of course, that he is still always tinkering with things, hoping to continue to explore and advance our world. His frank revelations are a gift to the Del community, especially to our students who have every reason to avoid the mass thinking of the careless lemmings. He has proven that tinkering can open many doors. Yes, the brilliant record of tinkerers is enviable, beckoning all who can to create the future, as dreamers do.
                                  
"Some people see things as they are and ask why, I see things that never were and ask why not."
Bernard Shaw

  • Fall 2020
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