March 3, 2020
Several very influential people have passed away in recent days, so I thought I’d take a minute to pay last respects to them...
One of the most brilliant and visionary scientists of our time, Freeman Dyson, died Saturday at 96. Dyson made enormous contributions to physics, math and quantum electrodynamics, despite never even bothering to earn a Ph.D. He also never won a Nobel Prize, even though his ability to understand things that others could not imagine led to fundamental advances in science and technology. As Mark Steyn wrote, you can get a sense of his importance just by the number of things that bear his name: “the Dyson sphere, Dyson series, Dyson graphs, Dyson number, Dyson operator, Dyson conjecture, Dyson tree, Schwinger-Dyson equation, Dyson's transform, Dyson's eternal intelligence” and so on.
As Steyn notes, toward the end of his life, other scientists not nearly so brilliant turned on him for casting doubt on their apocalyptic climate change predictions. Dyson believed in manmade climate change, and said he was a Democrat through-and-through and loved Obama, but he thought Obama was on the wrong side of climate change and the Republicans on the right side. He believed that the effects of CO2 on climate were vastly overstated and the benefit of more CO2 outweighed the negatives. Also, that the alarmists were too attached to their own computer models that had been proven wrong again and again. As Steyn quotes Dyson:
“A model is such a fascinating toy that you fall in love with your creation... Every model has to be compared to the real world and, if you can't do that, then don't believe the model.”
As happened so many times in his life, Dyson saw and stated a fundamental truth that his fellow scientists were oblivious to. Here are some testimonials from those who knew him:
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch died Sunday at 84. One of the most successful businessmen of the late 20th century, Welch’s hard-driving style and willingness to dump unprofitable companies and lay off workers brought him both admiration and criticism. He oversaw GE’s acquisition of RCA (and later NBC) and got the company into finance with GE Capital. That brought in massive profits, but seven years after his retirement, the 2008 mortgage crisis nearly destroyed the company. Welch said he gave himself an A for execution but an F for his choice of successors. You can read more about this controversial and influential man at the link.
James Lipton, the longtime host of the award-winning interview series “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” has died at 93 after battling bladder cancer. What you might not know about him: he served in the Air Force in World War II and came to New York after the war intending to become a lawyer, but instead fell into movie and TV production. On radio, he was the voice of the Lone Ranger’s nephew Dan Reid. He wrote a novel, choreographed a ballet, wrote for several soap operas and spent 10 years acting on “The Guiding Light.” Our condolences to his wife of nearly 50 years, former model Kedakai Mercedes Lipton.
Late last month, computer scientist Larry Tesler died at 74. He spent two decades at Apple, helping make human-computer interactions easier. His most famous contribution: while working at Xerox, he created the copy/cut/paste commands that allow computer users to move text around in documents and between different programs. In his honor, Twitter users are creating endless threads by copying and pasting the link to his obituary.