icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


The Path to Singularity: How Technology Will Challenge the Future of Humanity

This book presents an incisive summary of the evolution of humanity to its current critical stage and foresight into our technological future from the broad perspective of an astrophysicist. We are developing computers that are more capable than we are, we are peering into our own brains, we have the capacity to direct our own biological evolution, we are altering the ecological balance of our environment, and we are venturing into space. What happens next as we race toward a technological explosion? The book gives a clear presentation of relevant historical and technical background, illustrations of exponentially-rapid developments, and projects where those developments will lead with vast implications for our economics, democracy, and society in the near future and in a future when Homo sapiens will no longer exist, but our progeny may.

Only by understanding this era of rapid change and its exciting and frightening implications will informed citizens gain the ability to control the technological developments that threaten to overwhelm us even as we are consumed by quotidian cares.

As a guide book to change, this book will give readers a new appreciation of all the technological changes that are occurring around them, if only they pay attention. The book is a primer on how to pay attention that will be relevant long after today’s technological revolutions have faded into the past.

Now is the time to ask the questions that address the technological future of humanity:


When and how will our machines become more competent than us in virtually every human enterprise?


Will computers become conscious?


Will brain/computer interfaces enable mental telepathy between people?


How will advances in artificial intelligence affect our economics and democracy?


Will there be designer babies?


How many people can Earth support?


What are the implications of "solving" the aging problem?


Can we defeat the speed limit of light?


Are we alone in the Universe?


How can we ensure our technology is ethical and unbiased?


How can ordinary citizens influence the development of technology?

The Path to Singularity: How Technology Will Challenge the Future of Humanity

Cosmic Catastrophes: Exploding Stars, Black Holes, and Mapping the Universe

A tour of our dynamic Universe from supernovae to black holes, worm holes, and the multi-verse  aimed at students and the general public.

Cosmic Catastrophes: Exploding Stars, Black Holes, and Mapping the Universe

Supernova Explosions

A compendium of contemporary knowledge of how stars explode, what they look like, and the physics that drives them. Winner of the Chambliss Medal for astrophysical writing of the American Astronomical Society

Supernova Explosions

The Krone Experiment

This techno-thriller novel is set at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, yet reflects today's headlines. Damage to a Russian aircraft carrier leads to a breakdown in the detente with the United States. Star wars erupt as the two countries invoke space-based weapons in a deadly face-off in orbit. Robert Issacs, Deputy Director of Scientific Intelligence for the CIA, and his top aide, Dr. Patricia Danielson, connect the carrier damage with a mysterious seismic signal. Thwarted by internal CIA politics, they put their careers at risk to engage in an unauthorized consultation with Jason, the secret group of physicists who consult for the government. Astrophysicist Alex Runyan advances a fantastic theory that triggers a race for the truth before the conflict with Russia can spin out of control. The quest leads to the New Mexico laboratory of Paul Krone. The true danger dwarfs that posed by the international crisis. Bonus links to historical background material are provided at the end of the book. The Krone saga continues in the sequel, Krone Ascending, also available for Kindle.

The Krone Experiment

Krone Ascending

Krone Ascending is the sequel to The Krone Experiment in which physicist Paul Krone conducted an experiment with Earth-shattering consequences. Krone Ascending depicts the effort to manage the wrenching catastrophes released in the wake. Follow the decade-long saga as the principals of The Krone Experiment struggle to contain the political turmoil when the secret is revealed, wrestle with the complex social response, and set the stage to control the technology that Krone developed.

Krone Ascending

Why Astronomy?


     Knowledge of the amazing Universe we inhabit can alter people's perspectives; I would urge every thinking person to educate themselves on the vistas that astronomers have revealed. This might begin with the wonderful pictures of Earth suspended in the blackness of space, a reminder that this beautiful oasis is very special, finite, and potentially fragile.

      This view also reminds us that the affairs of humankind, so powerfully present in our daily lives, are humbly small in the vastness of all that surrounds us. We also get a glimpse of the immense spread of time; the Earth formed billions of years ago and will live for billions of years more. The view of Earth from space also reminds us that the power of intellect has revealed an incredible astronomical story.

     We can read from wisps of radiation how, from tiny wrinkles in space and time, came all the structure we see: galaxies, stars, and planets arrayed as far as our sophisticated instruments can detect. We know how stars are born, live, and die to seed the galaxy with the elements of life. We know that black holes litter galaxies, including giants in the centers. We have found that the universe is made mostly of stuff unlike ourselves, a dark gravitating matter, and, more recently and more shocking, an antigravitating force that pervades the universe and challenges physics at its roots. We have found planets around other stars, and the race to discover life elsewhere is in full-throated roar. Following this unfolding story can inspire wonder and awe that transcend our daily concerns.


Alcalde, January/February 2005, p 35




  Eniwetok.  The word rolls poetically off the tongue ending in the final delicious hard consonant.  This odd word worked its way into everyday family conversations with other words like Thomas and Tulsa, towns in Oklahoma where my parents had been children.  Eniwetok.  Japtan.  Parry Island.  Shot Island. These places were a part of my childhood mythology.  I spent three formative years in Boulder, Colorado,  learning to emerge from my shy shell, working my way up from kickball to being a pretty spiffy softball shortstop by the fifth grade.  At the same time, my father was working on the first hydrogen bomb.  It was not entirely secret, but the story only emerged in my consciousness over decades.  I am moved to write about it now by Richard Rhodes' marvelous book, Dark Sun, his massively researched sequel to The Making of the Atomic Bomb, that details the development of the first hydrogen bombs against the backdrop of Soviet espionage.  As it happens, I know some tidbits of this story that Rhodes may not.

  In our family, the story began in Oklahoma Territory.  As a teenager, Granddaddy Wheeler carried cash from stores to the bank with a six-gun strapped to his hip.  He later got into oil.  He had a piece of the Oklahoma oil field.  It was a little sandy cup, an isolated pond of petroleum in the middle of the vast underground ocean of oil.  Granddaddy made enough money to survive the depression and World War II in comfort, but the oil ran out while others, with mineral rights to land only hundreds of yards away, made legendary fortunes.  Had his well been in a different place, it is unlikely that Eniwetok would have entered the family history in the way it did. 

  My dad was christened G. L. Winters Wheeler in 1908.  The initials were expanded to family names, George Lafayette, only much later due to wartime exigencies and employment at Lockheed Corporation.  G. L. was a tinkerer.  As a kid, he raided an old dump for wire.  He hooked a telephone hand-cranked magneto to his door to shock his sisters when they tried to enter his bedroom.  He electrified the barbed wire fence to send Morse code to a neighbor, shocking anyone who unhappily touched the fence.  Later he had one of the first ham radio licenses, 5KW.  He went to the University of Oklahoma for a while and then worked in a bank, a job opened to him by his father's connections.  He decided to go back to school and enrolled at Berkeley, confusing it, he later admitted with some embarrassment, with that other bay-area school founded by Leland Stanford Jr.  He thought he was going to the university at which Herbert Hoover had matriculated.

  At Berkeley, G. L. first majored in engineering.  He loved electrical engineering and had a life-long fascination with communications.  He found, however, that he was required to take a course in mechanical engineering.  Rather than some of the theory he might have appreciated, the course featured squeezing concrete blocks in a hydraulic press until they broke.  He found that insipid and not to his taste.  He could not continue in engineering without that course and so, perhaps unwisely, switched to physics.  He had not had the background in Oklahoma for the rigors of physics and labored in the new curriculum, but stuck it out.  He got a Bachelor's Degree in Physics from Berkeley in 1932, the end of his formal education. 

  G. L. kicked around for a while.  He married his first wife.  He got into colored refrigerators and lost his shirt, being too far in advance of the avocado rage that would hit suburbia after the war.  He worked on the precursor of the color TV camera.  He had a daughter.  He got divorced.  He met my mother, Peggy, back in Oklahoma and got married.  He was horseback riding in Griffith Park when word came that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  G. L.. was too old at 34 to be drafted.  He got a job at Lockheed riveting tails on P-38s.  He worked on the tail structure of the third XP-38 ever built.  That tail fell off, but the plane landed safely.  He took home a pocket full of rivets in order to share his work with his wife.  Later he worked his way into a design engineer group.  He was always bright enough to be good at design but lacked the formal education to move up in that career at a commensurate speed.  He switched to North American and worked on map recognition and inertial guidance for the Navaho missile, the forerunner of the ICBM's that would come to dominate my childhood.  His clearance there was so high that he was not supposed to tell anyone he had it. 

  I was born in 1943, just a tad ahead of the soon-to-surge baby boom.  My sister, Cathy,  was born in 1948.  Just after the war, G. L.. and Peggy used waning left-over oil royalties to buy 40 acres of walnut trees in Van Nuys out in the San Fernando Valley.  I had a Shetland pony, stolen by some cad.  Granddaddy Wheeler had retired and moved to Woodland Park, Colorado.  He died in 1950.  We moved there and lived for a year off the proceeds of the sale of the walnuts; living off our capital, a grand Wheeler tradition.  If we had kept the land in Van Nuys, the Eniwetok story might have been diverted again in a tide of great financial fortune.  I had a grand time that year in Woodland Park, with good school chums, a second horse, an Indian pony, and acres of pines for adventure.  Those pines and the red, gravelly soil in which they were rooted are still in my blood. 

  At the end of that year, we were broke and G. L.. had to start over at age 42.  After some searching, he got a job at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder.  He worked on the coronagraph that was shipped to Africa for the Khartoum solar eclipse of 1951.  Then he heard that an outfit called Cambridge Corporation was looking for help.  He signed on.  Cambridge Corporation was an offshoot of Arthur D. Little, Inc, an early technological spin-off of MIT.  In league with the Carrier air conditioning company, Camco had the contract to build and operate the huge dewars to store the liquid deuterium that would power the world's first hydrogen bomb.  That opened the link to Eniwetok, a small coral atoll none of us then knew.

  In 1995, the world (a small technologically-oriented piece of it, anyway) celebrated the 100th anniversary of James Dewar, the Scotsman who invented the double-walled, vacuum-pulled vessel that could hold super cold liquids for long periods of time.  Liquid air, liquid oxygen, liquid helium, and liquid hydrogen all came within the purview of scientific and engineering research.  Basic science and engineering came together in the new field called cryogenics. 

  G. L. knew nothing about cryogenics when he joined Camco, but he was a quick study.  He signed up in February and was promptly shipped off with a group of men to MIT for several months.  Sam Collins, a professor at MIT, had learned how to make a cryostat, a device to manufacture liquid helium.  G. L. and the others were sent to MIT to learn about cryogenics, cryostats, and dewars. They stayed in the Burton House dorm and ate in the Graduate House, the old faculty club on Massachusetts Avenue right across the street from the domed sprawl of MIT where I would matriculate and my eldest son after me.  G. L. recalled a friendly waiter in the Graduate House who was always curious, graciously inquiring about how his work and studies were going.  Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, he wondered whether the man had been a Russian spy. 

  The dewars for the bomb were built in Massachusetts and then trucked to the National Bureau of Standards site in Boulder, up on the mesa south of town.  They were designed to hold liquid deuterium, heavy hydrogen.  The hydrogen bomb was intended to reproduce for a fraction of a second the process that powers the Sun, the nuclear conversion of simple hydrogen into the element helium.  Helium has two protons and two neutrons in its nucleus, ordinary hydrogen has only a single proton.  To fuse four protons into a single helium nucleus, two of the protons must be converted to neutrons.  This is a rare, relatively slow process in nature, but the Sun has eons of time.  The people rushing to develop the bomb were more impatient.  To speed up the process, they wanted to start with deuterium, hydrogen with an extra neutron.  That way the neutrons would already be in place, and in the nuclear fire two deuterium nuclei could be fused to make a helium nucleus directly, without waiting for the creation of new neutrons.  Deuterium was the fuel of choice.

  To work properly, the deuterium had to be as dense as possible and that required that it be liquefied and stored in one of James Dewars' insulated devices.  The dewars to store the liquid deuterium were huge.  They were mounted on large truck flatbeds so they could be transported.  Each held a little over 500 gallons of liquid deuterium, kept cold by a sophisticated construction of insulating Styrofoam and aluminum foil and heat shields themselves cooled by easy to manufacture liquid nitrogen.  Each dewar had attached to it a Collins cryostat so that as the liquid boiled, it could be re-liquefied and returned to the dewar for storage in a closed loop and a generator to power the whole shebang.

  There were six or seven dewars.  Only one would go up with the bomb, but redundancy provided a fail-safe mechanism.  Each dewar had a team and a field engineer who served as team leader.  G. L. was one of those team leaders.  A pipe running from the cryostat to the dewar had a transparent length of quartz so that one could monitor the flow of liquid deuterium from the condenser to the dewar, checking for bubbles or other irregularities in the flow.  Liquid deuterium is essentially clear and invisible, but few people have been near it at all and then it is mostly in opaque metal vessels.  By peering at that invisible flow through the quartz pipe, G. L. claimed to be one of the few human beings who had, or ever would, "see" liquid deuterium.

  G. L. came home one day in Boulder and said they were trying to think of names for the dewars they were constructing.  One was "Frigid Digit."  G. L. invented the name "Glacial Gertie."  At the time, I had no idea what a dewar was, though I recognized the new word that had become a part of my father's vocabulary.  I did know that I disliked the name Glacial Gertie.  It had too many hard consonants in the wrong place, no euphony.  I came up with the alliteration "Sleet Sue."  G. L. liked that and proposed to adopt it for his dewar.  As it turned out, however, one of his young colleagues, Bob Cushman, Cush, was engaged to a spirited young woman named Sue.  When Cush heard the name, he begged to use it, and G. L., sweet fellow that he was, acquiesced.  So the swap was made.  G. l. was in charge of Glacial Gertie, Cush of Sleet Sue.

  In the summer of 1952, Glacial Gertie and Sleet Sue and their sisters were tested in Boulder then shipped overland by truck and put on a ship headed for the West Pacific.  Later, in the fall, G. L., Cush, and their teams flew on Pan Am to Hawaii then on MATS, the Military Air Transport Service, to Wake Island, and on to Eniwetok.  They spent three months there as final preparations were made for Project Ivy.  Ivy stood for "I," one in a long alphabetically-named series of post-war atomic tests carried out in the Pacific.  The bomb was Ivy Mike, M for megaton, the sought for escalation from the mere kilotons that had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  G. l. was responsible for making sure Glacial Gertie was properly shipped, installed, and functioning at Eniwetok.  Eniwetok is a whole coral atoll consisting of an irregular ring dotted by islands sticking only feet out of the ocean.  One of the larger islands at the south rim of the atoll was also called Eniwetok.  It had a few stores, commissaries, where one could buy Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops long before Jimmy Buffett made them famous in Margaritaville.  The main compound was on Parry Island adjacent to Eniwetok island.  At low tide, you could walk between them on a narrow spit of land.  Before the atomic age, Parry Island had only a rickety wharf extending out into a sea dotted with the hulks of Japanese ships sunk during the war.  By the time G. L. arrived, it had tent barracks, a mess hall, a helicopter pad, a concrete loading ramp, a hydrogen liquefier building, dewars, and a horseshoe field.  He became very proficient at horseshoes, whiling away the time at 3 A. M. keeping a weather eye on the dewar.  

  On one off-duty excursion, a landing craft took a bunch of people to Japtan, a somewhat bigger island on around the atoll from Parry Island.  G. L. shinnied up a palm and cut loose a coconut.  He smuggled it back to the States as a souvenir.  On Eniwetok, he bought a pool cue carved with south sea designs.  He also acquired a pith helmet, mandatory head garb in the Pacific glare.  The desiccated coconut husk, the pith helmet, and the pool cue, the latter somewhat the worse for wear, still sit on a shelf in Peggy's house in Colorado Springs. 

  The meals on Parry Island were quite good, one means to maintain morale in an otherwise isolated environment.  There was often steak and lobster.  Another of the souvenirs G. L. brought back from this experience was a menu from the mess hall.  Inside the cover page, across from the listing of the day's meals, was a photo of a bare-breasted island girl clad only in a sarong slung low on her hips.  That menu made a great impression on my pre-pubescent soul, partly because I recognized, if only dimly at the time, its sexual tones and found it interesting that G. L. would proffer that particular souvenir to his wife.  I  lost track of it, and, to my pleasure, ran across it in Peggy's basement only last summer as I was cleaning up some stuff.

  Hydrogen and deuterium were shipped in gaseous form to Parry Island and then turned into cold liquid in the cryostats there.  Most of the time was spent storing and transporting more abundant liquid hydrogen in training exercises.  The precious liquid deuterium was saved for the final tests and the event itself.  The crucial liquids were loaded into the dewars and the dewars were shipped to Shot Island by barge.  The bomb, as depicted in Dark Sun, was a huge device meant to illustrate the proof of principle, not to be dropped on an enemy city.  It was in a large galvanized steel building.  The device itself was two stories high   It had an "ordinary" atomic bomb, a fission device at the top.  The radiation from this immense precursor explosion would race down the insides of an evacuated hull and the resulting radiation pressure would compress an inner shell of depleted uranium moments before the force of the initial explosion exploded through the outer casing.  The inward compression would be communicated to a vat of liquid deuterium, compressing and heating it and triggering the nuclear fire.  For good measure, there was an inner core of enriched uranium that would add a little fission boost and ensure that a proper bang ensued.

  The deuterium was piped from the dewars like Glacial Gertie and Sleet Sue that sat outside the building holding the device.  The pipes led inside the building, around its perimeter, and then into the top of Ivy Mike.  The dewars would build up pressure that was released by opening a valve and burning off the excess.  Hydrogen burns in a hot clear flame by combining with the oxygen in the air.  A common occurrence was for an unwary seagull to blunder into this flame and fall to the ground, ready cooked. 

  Shot Island, where the device sat, was at the north end of the atoll, about thirty miles from Eniwetok Island.  It is known to the Marshall Island natives as Elugelab.  It no longer exists.  Next to it was another small island barely rising above the level of the sea where other bunk and mess facilities were set up for the crews working on Shot Island.  The two islands were connected by a small causeway, so one could walk from one to the other between work and meals. 

  The mess island had another old pier left over from the war that had been rebuilt.  The men that worked on the bomb spent long off-duty hours swimming and snorkeling in the clear waters off the pier.  A giant clam resided just to the left off the pier as you faced the water.  All the men were fascinated by it and grew rather fond of it.  They occasionally fed it large chunks of meat.  Year's later, in relating some stories of those days, G. L. got very wistful as he remarked, "they should have evacuated that thing."  They did not, and the clam was vaporized in the bomb.

As the day of the shot grew near, and the dewars were shuffled around, keeping Ivy Mike full and prepared, it became clear which dewar would be online when the shot went off.  It was to be Sleet Sue.  My small claim to fame here was vaporized along with the clam. 

  G. L was involved in the frenzied last-minute preparations on Shot Island.  Sleet Sue arrived with the last dose of liquid deuterium at 9:30 in the evening.  She was attached to the piping leading to Ivy Mike as another crew loaded the plutonium core into the atomic bomb at the top of the device.  All was finished in the early morning hours.  The story is not quite clear to me now, but G. L. was responsible for setting some critical part of the chain of operations into motion, presumably something to do with putting Sleet Sue on automatic, and was one of the last people off Shot Island.  Another of his assignments was to make sure all his team was off the island and on the landing craft that would take them to a waiting transport ship.  That intense, human responsibility in the middle of the night after an exhausting day, the nightmare of leaving someone behind,  left its mark on him for decades.

  The next few hours, were, G. L.  said, a blur.  They took the landing craft to the transport ship and sailed thirty miles south to lay up beyond the southern extent of Parry Island and the Eniwetok atoll.  G. L. remembered nothing of that trip, probably sunk in the fatigue of the last-minute rush. 

  He vividly remembered the event itself.  They lined up on the rails of the ship and put on goggles of dark welder's glass.  After the first flash at 7:15 local time on the morning of November 1, 1952, they took their goggles off and watched the fireball grow.  G. L. described its overwhelming immensity,   it just seemed to grow and grow, stretching along the horizon and towering into the sky.  He was struck by the irrational feeling that it was not going to stop.  Finally, however, the white fireball, the vapor of water, coral, clam, and Sleet Sue, stopped expanding and the familiar mushroom erupted from the top to tumble even higher.

  G. L. arrived back in Boulder in mid-November bearing the coconut, the pith helmet,  the pool cue, the racy menu, and the flip flops.  There was a light, wet snow on the ground.  I barely knew what had transpired in this epochal time, but one memory remains clear in my mind: G. L. frolicking in that snow, building a snowman, wearing those green flip-flops.

Memory of a Dream (August 28, 2003)


     For forty years I have carried with me an indirect association with the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech that I would like to share on this anniversary.
     In the summer of 1963 I was between my sophomore and junior years at MIT. I got a summer job in a company near Valley Forge, on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia where my parents had moved as I went off to college. The job was in the stock room.
     My boss, the supervisor of the stock room, was Julius, a black man, who, looking back on it, must have been in his mid-thirties, pretty mature by my standards then. The other employee was Tony, an Italian kid a year or two older than I and destined, I would guess, to spend his life in stock rooms. Tony drove a split-finned Buick convertible. Very cool. Think Fonzie or Travolta in Grease long before those characters became famous.
     As low man on the totem pole, Julius assigned me, among other routine things, to sweep the floor. He did not just hand me the broom, however. He took it himself and carefully showed me the right way to do it, with easy strokes parallel to the floor, admonishing me not to flip the broom into the air at the end of a stroke. That, he explained, would just spread the dirt and dust around. This was a simple lesson, but it left a deep mark on me. It was not given in an imperious way, but in the spirit of doing even small tasks correctly and with pride. The pride Julius had in his stock room and his desire to have it run properly filled the atmosphere there. To this day, I cannot pick up a broom without thinking of Julius, and I try hard to sweep parallel to the floor and to not kick up excess dust.
     At some point during the summer, Tony remarked to me, that, actually, he did not like blacks (probably not the word he used), but that Julius was different. I was very young and naive, but I had enough sense to know, if Tony did not, that the difference was that Tony knew Julius as a person, a caring individual with enviable standards.
     Then toward the end of August, Julius said he was going to be gone for a week. I think Tony and I, mostly Tony, ran the stock room while he was away. At that time, I was dimly aware, through headlines, of the turmoil in the South, but, to establish my naivete, I had no idea the March on Washington was being organized. I do not recall when I first heard the "I have a dream" speech, although I was moved by it, as all were.
     I do know that when Julius returned from that week in Washington, he glowed with a spirit that was palpable in the stock room. I did not know what had happened, did not even quite know where he had been, never mind what he had done, but that something good had happened to him came through loud and clear. Julius did not try to talk about it with two young white kids. He just radiated.
     It was years before I realized to any extent what it must have meant to Julius to participate in that March, but there was no question he came back a changed man.
     Wherever Julius and Tony are, I wish them well.

The Great Pumpkin Hack of 1962

     I was a sophomore that fall of 1962, leading several lives: still the kid from Idaho at some level, a harried sufferer of sophomore slump beavering away at the rigors of Course Eight (physics), a member of ATO fraternity, and a member of the fencing team. I felt more than a little schizoid. Then Norm Davis recruited me for his scheme, and I could add secret agent hacker to my multiple personalities. I am not sure why Norm picked me, I was one of the last to be added, and I do not know why I accepted. "Excess is never enough," I suppose.

     Norm had already scouted the site and laid the plans for which he recruited his commandos. At this time, the upper floors of the Great Dome were book stacks. There was free access to the upper levels through the library below. All that has been remodeled now, so however the Class of 1997 did it, they did not use our secret. The key involved those upper stacks where a heavy gauge chain link fence with a locked gate barred access to the stairs that led outside to the catwalk around the outer rim of the Great Dome. To get through this gate required a key, but to get back there was a simple lever handle that allowed one to return to the library area. Undoubtedly, the presumption was that only people who had legitimate access would be on the far side, and there was no point in locking them out of the library. Norm had discovered, if memory serves, that at one point there was a gap in the fence, between the fence and the gate, or between the fence and the ceiling. It required just a bit of quick and easy acrobatics to get in. Once in, one could simply open the handle and leave through the gate or use the gate to smuggle in pieces of Great Pumpkin. It was that easy.
      We were divided into three teams. One would go out onto the roofs of the adjacent wings that held the lights that illuminated the dome. I think access to those was trivial, but maybe not. This team would cover the spotlights with orange-colored transparent sheets to give the Great Pumpkin the appropriate hue. The other two teams would go up into the dome and create the eyes, nose, and mouth. I was on the nose team. We must have had one or two dry runs, because I recall Norm leading several of us up into the dome during daytime and showing us how to get access to the outside of the dome.
      The preparations were all done at 37 Bay State Road, the home for ATO at the time. The mouth was to consist of triangular teeth painted on bed sheets that in turn were suspended from three bamboo poles, one to hang horizontally, the other two slanted slightly upwards to give the proper tilt to the corners of the mouth. The whole rig was about thirty feet from tip to tip. I recall this bamboo arrangement sprawled out on the dining room floor so that we could check the span and the manner in which the three poles would be lashed together and the sheets affixed to them before the whole rig was heaved over the side of the dome. All these pieces had to be smuggled up into the dome in advance. Then on Halloween, we would pull them from their hiding places and assemble them and drop them over the edge. I was not part of that smuggling, so I do not know where all this stuff was hidden. I also do not recall now how the whole assembly was tied to the dome. There were some protuberances to which it could be lashed. The nose was also pre-painted on a single sheet tied to yet another bamboo pole that would be lowered over the edge in a similar fashion.
      The eyes had to go on the vertical surface that rose above the walkway. There was no way to get above that point to hang something down. The eyes, therefore, were to be painted directly on the limestone. Cans of the paint also had to be smuggled up into the dome in advance. To avoid permanent stains, black, water-soluble, poster paint was chosen. That paint was our ultimate undoing.
      Norm had the timing all worked out as well. We could not go up too early to avoid library personnel and dusk would mask our skullduggery, but we had to be done by the time the outside lights came on. Norm had a plan for the exact choreography of the assembling of the nose and mouth, the painting of the eyes, and the independent teams working the lights in parallel. He was a study of controlled anxiety, making sure all of us understood the close timelines.
      On Halloween, we all drifted into the library at the appointed time. I went alone and felt a definite adrenaline rush while squeezing through the access that evening. Many of the other guys were already there. I do not have a clear memory of assembling the nose. It was a bit windy and overcast, I think, but things went more or less according to plan. At one point I got out my pocket knife to cut one of the strings that lashed the sheet to the
pole. The mouth went over first. I recall some minor glitches because it was the most unwieldy part and was big for the space available on the walkway to assemble it. Finally, though, the three poles and their toothed sheets went over the edge and draped properly. Then we dropped the nose sheet over, hanging from its bamboo pole. That went smoothly. Finally, someone with a roller brush on a pole painted the triangular eyes. There must have been some rush to get the leftover paraphernalia off the catwalk, but by then I was really on an adrenaline high, and do not remember anything. We left separately at intervals to avoid drawing attention.
      My next memory is of standing, alone, at the end of the Great Court and looking back at what we had done. I do not recall if I was already stationed there when the lights came on, or whether the timing was so close that the lights were on by the time I walked out to the Great Court to get a perspective. I do remember it was one of the greatest rushes of my life. There it was! The Great Pumpkin! There was absolutely no mistaking it, and it was there for all of Boston to see!
      I was already a bit late for fencing practice, so could not linger, but my impression was that I floated across Mass Ave to the Dupont athletic center. If this was not being in love, it was something closely akin. A great hack, a great adventure, and absolutely no one or nothing harmed or hurt. Just pure fun. The fact that I had a soft spot for Linus and his Great Pumpkin only amplified the feeling. I had fuzzy thoughts to the effect of exhorting Linus to check out this pumpkin patch. I dropped a hint to a couple of my fencing buddies that something had happened to the Great Dome, but we were sworn to secrecy, so I had to swallow the urge to tell the whole story.
      At some point in the next day or so, I realized I was missing my pocket knife. I knew immediately where it was. I took a cue from Norm. I carefully cased the joint. I checked out the parapet from outside. I could not see anyone. I skulked up into the library and into the stacks. I checked for loiterers or employees. The coast was clear. I made my move through the Davis-gambit fence opening and walked up the stairs and out onto the exterior walkway.         

     Right into a group of workmen.
     "Can we help you?" one of them asked politely.

     "No, I, uh, just lost something," I replied, recognizing that the knife was probably already confiscated and that I certainly could not search for it with those men there. I turned on my heel, walked as calmly as I could back down the stairs, and let myself out through the gate. I still wonder how those guys thought I got up through that locked gate.
      We were pretty full of ourselves those next few days, but this, as the old song goes, "is where the spider bit." It was that paint. The mouth and nose were okay, a little of the poster paint had rubbed off onto the stone of the dome, but that was not the problem. The problem, unforeseen, was that the cleverly chosen poster paint, while water-soluble, soaked into the pores of the limestone. This may have been aided by the damp day, making the
stone more permeable. Whatever the reason, the paint would not, in fact, wash off. We had given the Institute a semi-permanent black eye. Two of them. Why did we not have a "materials-type" on the team?
      So the pressure came down from the Institute. This was not a purely harmless prank after all. Someone would have to pay for the effort to scrub the dome and that meant perpetrators had to be identified. I do not recall the details of how that played out. I do remember that somehow it leaked that ATO was involved. That bought us under scrutiny. Then Norm did the manly thing and confessed to being the ring leader. This was perhaps a week after Halloween. He went in and faced the Dean of Students, Dean Fasset, alone and took full responsibility. He was presented a bill and we all in turn kicked in to pay it. I think Norm carried the brunt of it. On the other hand, rumor had it that Dean Fasset, with a twinkle in the eyes that peered over his famous half-glasses, paid half the bill from his own pocket. Justice was done.
      I had one subsequent perspective to the drama. I remember standing again in the Great Court, staring up at the Great Dome and watching how the Institute staff were spending my money. I was not terribly pleased. There were four or five men. A supervisor, his supervisor, his supervisor, and his supervisor. These chiefs were standing around doing their job, supervising. One fellow was making fitful swipes at the black triangles with a rag, and I was presumably paying a piece of all their salaries! Hey, guys, I'll get up there and dab with that rag myself if it will speed things up.
      On return visits to Cambridge over the next few years, I would always crane my neck at the Great Dome. The Institute did a pretty good job of getting the eyes off, but for years the black triangular smudges could be revealed to a discerning gaze. Then finally, they could not be seen even with the most fervid imagination. That was the end of the Great Pumpkin hack. Until 1994. I hope you fellows did not use poster paint.