I like biographies, oh, not those ghost written glossy ones featuring this weeks favorite pop star, or yesterdays political want to be. I like biographies by real people who have a real story. For good or bad, I like real stories about real people. They don’t have to be captains of industry, or Nobel science winners, they just need to have a story.

When I found Militarist Millionaire Peacenik in my mailbox, I took one look at the cover and said to myself, “Self, I know you are going to enjoy this one”. I was not wrong, Alan F. Kay has led a fascinating life, a life that deserves recording for all to appreciate. Alan is now in his 80’s and he has much to reflect on. I wish I could boast 1/10th of his achievements.

Born in the later part of the 1920’s Alan Kay has seen much change in the world. His inherent love of learning led him into a Chemical Engineering degree at MIT, alas health problems took him in a different direction while there. He moved into Math. But What can you do with a Bachelors Degree in math? is the rhetorical question he asks. Alan Kay, is what I think would call an over achiever, the BS soon becomes a PhD.

My interest in Math on the other hand, was derailed in the English Grammar School system in the 1960’s. It was taught in such an abstract fashion that there seemed no application for it in the real world. Even the exam questions were inane, and I recall centered around such concepts as someone leaving both bath taps turned on full and the plug not being installed. Our mission was to figure out how long it would take the bath tub to spill on the floor! As a 16 year old, what went through my mind was not how long it would take, but rather how much trouble you were likely going to get into if you were responsible for doing such a thing.

Alan Kay had achieved his PhD, but the land of academia was not his calling. The brief stint in the military as a translator in the months following the end of WWII in Japan had introduced Alan Kay to other avenues to explore.

His understanding of math led him into a path of working for a defense contractor, but as he so eloquently put it “I never made anything that went BANG”. Rather his interest was in transitioning math into areas such as Radar and microwave.

Of course it was only a matter of time before new interests crept in. Most history books cite the creation of the internet as being an event that happened in 1969, when for the first time two computers in different geographical locations shared information, ARPANET was born. The history books are both right and wrong, remote access to computers had been achieved sometime sooner. And one of the earliest adoptees was an Alan Kay concept and company AutEx, a way that financial traders could automate the buying and selling of Stock Exchange products. It was also the beginnings of E-mail.

Alan Kay is just one of those people that you can not keep down, having spent his time in the world of E-commerce before the word had even been thought of he moved on. What next? Well why not world peace? All I can say is that this guy is a dynamo.

The Cold War did not deter Alan Kay, both sides were wrong. Politicians were doing little to diffuse what could become a world terminating situation. They may have been the worlds superpowers, but in reality the US and the USSR had become ugly adversaries in a game of atomic chess. Most books view the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis as the point at which we came closest to a nuclear winter, but I am still up for a lively discussion about the Reagan years.

I have a list of people that I would love to talk with, some are alive, and a few I have managed to chat with, some are dead, and I can only imagine how those conversations would go. Alan Kay has been added to my list, what a great life he has led, what an interesting man.

In Militarist Millionaire Peacenik Alan Kay makes reference to the six degrees of separation, the concept of which is that you can take any two people on the planet, and by looking at who they know, and whose people in turn know, in less than six levels you can connect them. I am one degree of separation from Alan Kay, and hope that I can persuade him into being a guest on my radio show, which will remove that degree!

You can get your copy of Militarist Millionaire Peacenik from Amazon.

Simon Barrett


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