Tag Archives: Research and development

Don’t Let Fear Be Your Excuse

I had lunch recently with my friends Jane and Larry Graham. Their granddaughter Caroline Richards died in January from osteocarcenoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  She was 12 years old. Caroline was a sunny day kind of child: She favored dancing over walking and singing over whispering.  She had over 30,000 followers on Twitter. She embraced her disease by giving people presents, making them laugh, and celebrating her favorite pop band One Direction. Caroline refused to forfeit her time to fear, self-pity or regret.

Caroline Richards faced a rare form of cancer by refusing to let fear and pain rob her of joy.

Caroline Richards faced a rare form of cancer by refusing to let fear and pain rob her of joy.

I’ve thought of Caroline many times since the Saturday afternoon I squeezed into her funeral, a standing-room only affair packed with people of all ages and walks of life, many of whom had big bows in their hair like the kind Caroline wore – when she had hair. There was dancing in the aisles and a great deal of singing to honor Caroline’s philosophy: If life throws you a bum rap, put a bow on it and throw a party.

Easier said than done, we say. Some of us are tragedians; we tend to look at the quieter, sad aspect of life. But the lesson Caroline leaves us is to not be undone by mere predisposition. No indeed. Do not let fear be the excuse.

Most of us are blessed. We don’t face major life-and-death situations.  But fear is an insidious life-stealer.  Ever since I can remember I’ve suffered from paralyzing stage fright. I have a vivid memory of standing in front of my eighth grade speech class and leaning on a chair because my knees were shaking so hard. Stints in community theater and Toastmasters have alleviated it, but I’m still terrified when I face an audience. My task is to prepare, open my mouth and say my piece. Telephone calls have always had the same effect on me, an odd twist for someone in my profession.

Caroline's Brave Bunny Foundation awards a children who show exceptional courage with this bunny.

Caroline’s Brave Bunny Foundation recognizes children who show courage.

Caroline’s mother, Lauren, gets it. Caroline didn’t live to do what she’d wanted to do, help raise money as an ambassador for research to help save other children from the cancer that caused her so much suffering.  So her mom has taken the bull by the horns in Caroline’s honor. Lauren is starting the Caroline’s Brave Bunny Foundation that, among other things, awards a (stuffed) bunny to children who show their own particular brand of courage.

The award — a bunny with “Brave” embroidered on one ear and the child’s name on the other — recognizes courage, not winning. The victory lies in moving through the fear, be it finishing school, or mastering a particular skill. Whatever it may be. Fear is a very personal crippler.

So remember Caroline and the Brave Bunny next time you pick up the phone to make that cold call. Or take a job you don’t think you can do. Scale your guts, and think about the time you have on this planet. Let’s not let fear be our excuse.

Thinking in a different way

Now I get it.  It’s about thinking differently to tackle big problems like cancer, climate change, floods, droughts, hunger, pandemics.  Last week’s Austin Forum showcased the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the University of Texas System’s mind-boggling infrastructure.  But it wasn’t until a week later, when I listened to Open Stack’s Jonathan Bryce talk about the cloud that it all fell into place.

Armed with horsepower provided by TACC and UT, M.D. Anderson researchers can see results in one-third to one-half the time of earlier efforts.  Visualization  overcomes the communication tangles that get in the way of so much sharing.  Results can be studied and compared in real time (a picture’s worth …).

Think about it.  TACC, with its 10-petaflop supercomputer and super-charged network, can help researchers solve problems in days or even hours that used to take weeks or months.  Armed with faster answers, the researchers ask more questions.  They collaborate more.  They ask different questions and expand the circle of collaboration.  More minds, more perspectives, more questions. Perhaps the initial problem morphs into several smaller ones.  Perhaps one or more of these is easier to solve.

A high point:  A self-described hacker asked if he could pitch in. TACC Director Jay Boisseau responded that yes, there would be collaborative opportunities, individual as well as the collective ones provided by a research park. That’s encouraging news in a world that needs some brain power focused on things that matter.  Perhaps future sessions will touch on the process of developing a smart set metrics to guide all of this collaboration.

In the meantime, let’s work on that fiscal cliff.