MLK On Global Communication and Commerce

It is a testament to his incredible gifts that Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? is perhaps more relevant today than it was 50 years ago. When we fully awaken and respond to its call to action, the planet will be transformed.

We must frankly acknowledge that in the past years our creativity and imagination were not employed in learning how to develop power. We found a method in nonviolent protest that worked, and we employed it enthusiastically. We did not have leisure to probe for a deeper understanding of its laws and lines of development. Although our actions were bold and crowned with successes, they were substantially improvised and spontaneous. They attained the goals set for them but carried the blemishes of our inexperience.

When a new dawn reveals a landscape dotted with obstacles, the time has come for sober reflection, for assessment of our methods and for anticipating pitfalls. Stumbling and groping through the wilderness finally must be replaced by a planned, organized and orderly march.


All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors. This world-wide neighborhood has been brought into being largely as a result of the modern scientific and technological revolutions. The world of today is vastly different from the world of just one hundred years ago. A century ago Thomas Edison had not yet invented the incandescent lamp to bring light to many dark places of the earth. The Wright brothers had not yet invented that fascinating mechanical bird that would spread its gigantic wings across the skies and soon toward distance and place time in the service of man. Einstein hadn not yet challenged and axiom and the theory of relativity had not yet been posited.

Human beings, searching a century ago as now for better understanding, had no television, to radios, no telephones and no motion pictures through which to communicate. … Science had not yet peered into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space, nor had it penetrated oceanic depths.


The Race and Case for Space

Although this was definitely not my plan, it seems fitting that the first, last and only posts of this month have a Star Trek component. As the passing of Leonard Nimoy is being commented upon by people the world over including statements by President Obama and Charlie Bolden – leaders of the US space program, I am reflecting on the juxtaposition of art and science. On the one hand, in the modern mythology of Star Trek, Vulcans observing the “real” first manmade artificial satellite Sputnik in 1957, crash in a fictional town in Pennsylvania. In the “real” world town of Lakehurst, NJ a few years later, a ground station at the naval base relayed the first live two-way telephone call between heads of state via geosynchronous satellite Syncom II to President Kennedy. On the other end of the call, via the US Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor was the Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa. In a brilliant essay entitled The Race for Space written sometime in late 1957 but unpublished until 1993, Duke Ellington articulates how racial issues were holding America back in the space race. Pointing out the lack of educational and employment opportunities in the fields needed to compete The Duke said

“Everybody has to get in the game if we are playing to win”

America won, but barely and then stumbled. In 1958 Ellington  named his band The Spacemen one of the first in the lineage Big K.R.I.T  recognizes in this Rolling Stones interview from Nov of 2014, African-American musicians were not only tuned into outer space, but saw themselves as intellectually and creatively capable of contributing to the US space effort.TheCosmicScene Now we’re in a new race for space with an African-American in charge of NASA but no companies like Space X or Virgin Galactic. Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA puts it this way:

“When you have problems like trying to get humans down onto the surface of Mars, if you don’t have all the best minds in the world — not just white men — then you’re not utilizing humanity the way you should.”

Even though the benefits of the space program have been well documented, some people still don’t see why we should care(let alone spend money on) space. There’s one simple reason why every human should care about space. It’s home! Someone might say that our home is here on Earth, but Earth is a planet orbiting a star in space. Space is also a repository of vast material resources and has proven economic value.  Contemporary astronauts speak about the transforming impact of seeing Earth from orbit – something called the Overview Effect.  At least 6000 years ago on what is now the Nubian desert, ancient astronomers at Nabta Playa were charting the stars.


The Science of Race

“We use these terms — white, black, Indian, Latino — and they don’t really mean what we think they mean,” saidClaudio Saunt, a historian at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the study.

NY Times: White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier

Often, what we really mean has to do with ethnicity, culture, religion, socio-economic class – or some combination thereof. If we want to solve the problems that lead to humans dying, grieving, protesting in NY and elsewhere, understanding what we mean might help. We can’t transform the language we use overnight but we can plant thought seeds …


there are averages of genetic profiles of people from certain populations, but even those aren’t very illuminating for individuals. “I could tell you what the average Mexican would be — 50 percent European, 45 percent Native American and 5 percent African, but it’s a very broad spread,” he said. That makeup might vary wildly from person to person. The “typical” ethnic ancestry for a Mexican is very different from that of someone who is Dominican — or, say, a Filipino person whose DNA comes mostly from East Asia — but all might be lumped under the same racial umbrella and deemed to look “Latino.”

The racial profiles we assign ourselves — I’m black, I’m Asian, I’m white — remain overly simplistic

How Can A White Supremacist Be 14 Percent Sub-Saharan African?


Those who identify as primarily white can have African ancestry. 23andMepublished a study (pdf) based on its own dataset that concluded that approximately 3 to 4 percent of their customers who identified as being of primarily European descent had at least one ancestor in the last 10 generations who could be traced back to Africa.

Do Most Whites Have Traces of African DNA, as I Do?


When modern humans migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, they found the Eurasian continent already inhabited by brawny, big-browed Neanderthals. We know that at least some encounters between the two kinds of human produced offspring, because the genomes of people living outside Africa today are composed of some 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA.

Surprise! 20 Percent of Neanderthal Genome Lives On in Modern Humans, Scientists Find



Two Black Men Responsible For Huge Florida Fire

It is well known that they did this at least in part to spread a “startling” message written by a black woman who has also expressed an unwavering commitment to “rise up”.



Fictional characters in Way In The Middle of the Air – a part of the 1950 sci-fi classic The Martian Chronicles saw the idea of black people going to Mars as Silly. Some people at that time and maybe even now might think the idea had more in common with the religious folk song Ezekiel Saw The Wheel whose lyrics it took its name from than any down to earth, practical “reality”. However NASA’s Orion spacecraft has completed it’s first test flight led by an African American so perhaps it’s time to take the idea seriously. People can follow NASA Director Charles Bolden’s blog, read up on President Barack Obama’s space policy and decide for themselves.


From Sojourner To The Mountain Top

The Mars Curiosity Rover has reached Mount Sharp its primary destination for exploring Martian geology. 17 years ago, Curiosity’s ancestor Sojourner became the first rover to land on another planet. A decade before Sojourner’s launch, NASA’s current leader and interplanetary history maker Charles Bolden was commanding a Shuttle mission. Congratulations are in order for both Bolden and Sojourner Truth!



Getting Back In The Game

One barrier to STEM interest in communities of color is the perception that the fields are  culturally foreign and boring. Becoming aware of the African roots of gamification an increasingly important STEM building block may be one way to help correct that misunderstanding. We are not new to this game!

Games are not only fun and useful in teaching, they are also profoundly important in various fields of study including STEM because of game theory:

Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.

Game theory has come to play an increasingly important role in logic and in computer science. Several logical theories have a basis in game semantics. In addition, computer scientists have used games to model interactive computations. Also, game theory provides a theoretical basis to the field of multi-agent systems.

Separately, game theory has played a role in online algorithms.


Owari, the oldest game in the world belongs to the Mancala family of games found throughout Africa(and now the world). Some believe it is over 5000 years old, nobody disputes that it is at least 1300  years old. It continues to be mined for practical insights. Ron Eglash’s African Fractals book looks at how and why the game was developed and also explores the relationship between Owari and cellular automata. He has not been alone:

It is a strange anomaly that the newest electronic marvel – the Digital Computer – has been programmed to play the oldest counting game. Engineers and mathematicians who have been developing a mechanical brain are fascinated by the manner in which this simple “game of intelligence” enables them to watch the evolution of automatic thinking.

Games Museum

Understanding the specific connections between culture and STEM can not only help engage folk, but may lead to new developments.

Programming Language Inventor

John Henry Thompson created the first widely used commercial programming language for multimedia applications. This language is called Lingo and is a part of the Adobe(formerly Macromind) Director authoring environment.  Interactive multimedia took root in the 90’s with the rise of the CD-ROM and is nearly ubiquitous today on the web.  Whether it’s product animation, music, video, effects, interactive multimedia helps you have a smoother and often more informative experience. While HTML 5 and Flash are more popular now, Director/Lingo is still being used today and is widely recognized as the ancestor of these newer technologies. JT discusses this ancestry at the beginning of this interview:

JT is very upfront  and mindful of his ancestry so it’s not shocking that the Lingo programming has an “ancestor” instruction used to allow programs to share or inherit capabilites from other programs.  When you create technology, you get to imbue it with your own terminology and cultural perspective.