Wednesday, January 11, 2012

acronyms -- the key to Washington

NSA -- No Such Agency
NSF -- Not Sufficent Funds
NIH -- Not Invented Here
NASA -- Not a Safe Activity
DOE -- Dead on Emergence
PAC -- People Are Crazy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the risk of mass death like PT repeating itself

"Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."
In the history of the past billion years, there was an event ("PT") which killed every living member of most species of life on the surface of the earth, through levels of poison (H2S) and radiation high enough to kill every human. What do you say when the world's most prominent expert on that event says we are firmly on track to repeating what happened then? It's not a simple story, but it is a serious one.

For me, the story began when the Geosciences Directorate of NSF hosted and promoted a talk by Peter Ward, author of Under a Green Sky, who told this story.
As a first step, I studied and restudied his book; I have posted a condensed summary of what it actually says here:

But being a very critical and independent scientist myself, I do not take his story at face value.

Ward basically forsees two steps, which he thinks will happen if we
let CO2 to get as high as 1000ppm (which
is consistent with current policies to expand fossil fuels):

1. Due to melting ice and rise of temperature at the poles, we may
shift the pattern of ocean currents to today's
"mixed ocean" to a "stratified ocean." Climate deniers often talk
about how CO2 was much higher at the time of dinosaurs
(really, paleozoic and mesozoic time) than it has been since mammals
started ruling the earth. That is true -- but it
also led to a stratified ocean at those times, and repeated (10 or 12)
mass extinctions due to certain instabilities in that
kind of ocean. Of course, that won't happen immediately, and those who
don't care whether everyone dies even as soon as 10 or 20
years from now would regard it as quite irrelevant to their values.
(But this is a century-off kind of risk.)

2. A "trigger," which he claims is due to the RATE of increase of CO2.
Since CO2 is now increasing at a RATE
a hundred times what it did in the past extinctions (all of which
occurred at peaks of CO2, 10 of 12 at peaks after
rapid increase of CO2), he says that will also follow as the night the
day if we get to a stratified ocean now.

In 2009, I saw his impressive graph of extinctions versus CO2 ... but
was not convinced. He said that the RATE
of CO2 matters because the ocean can buffer slow changes in CO2; rapid
changes lead to acid, a critical trigger.
But CRS said we should worry about pH as low as 7.7 (not so acid) by
2100 in the worst scenarios.

This week, I went back to the actual technical paper which is the real
origin of the kind of theory Ward was proposing:

Seminal work from Pennsylvania... I wish I had tracked it down in
2009, when I was working in Specter's office, attached to EPW work. And there is also a paper on the history of acidity in the
oceans which goes with it.

The bottom line: acidity isn't really the trigger here, at least not
in H2S production in the ocean.

The triggers -- once there is a stratified ocean -- are simply further
current changes, supporting anoxia and warmth, the two
triggers for greater H2S production by creatures "under the chemocline."

Anoxia is already the prime suspect in the death of coral reefs, more
than ocean acidity. We are getting lots of it from sources like
agricultural runoff,
in the age of fertilizer. That plus warming and further current
changes could get to an H2S event without waiting for a low pH.

Can we predict THEM? Or change THEM? That is not so clear.

HOWEVER -- the two URLs I cited last time are very important, too, as
I discussion.
One can find Kung's 2005 paper in google scholar (I searched on Kung
PSU, and immediately recognized
which was the relevant one, cited by Ward, whose URL I sent you yesterday).
When I did that -- google scholar lets you see links to all 158 papers
which have cited Kung's paper since then,
many giving hard data confirmation from other avenues, a few
skeptical. I read through all of them yesterday;
for some I only read abstracts because of "$30 per click", but they
seemed unlikely to change the story which emerged from the others.

It seems clear that MOST upwelling regions of the ocean suffered from
the anoxia (and then H2S) problem
Kung discussed. But not all. Kung's original paper discussed this. The
most intense skeptic (who said his model is better than Kung's) said
that that volume of H2S would not be enough to zap the ozone layer (on
top of poisoning everyone); however, he said it would cause an OH-
deficit which would result in methane causing the same effect.

As I think about the implications... if ONLY the north pole became
de-iced and warm, that should logically be enough to
allow a stratified ocean in the northern hemisphere but not the south.
That would still be a rather serious problem.

Ward talked at the end about the need for more understanding of
thermohaline currents, how they can change radically
(e.g. in older earth history)... and that does seem to be the key to
understanding when stratified oceans become mass killers.


Best of luck. We need it.

condensed summary of "Under A Green Sky"

Notes by P.J.Werbos, Jan 8, 2012. Book costs $7 from Amazon.

The book begins with extensive discussion of Ward’s personal role and prior history of the field. Detailed citations by chapter are on pages 205-224.

The first four chapters discuss what led up to Ward’s theory – how we know that the PT dieoff was the worst dieoff in the history of earth, what other major dieoffs were like, and what the earlier inadequate theories were like.

Chapter 1:
Page 18 gives a graph from Norman Neville showing how many families of life were
killed off by various extinctions. PT, at the start of the Mesozoic era, was the biggest. Ward was part of the group which verified the Alavarez theory that the end-of-mesozoic dieoff (KT) was caused by an asteroid impact, but gives extensive evidence explaining the new consensus that none of the other big extinctions were caused that way.
Pages 24-25: C12/C13 isotope ratios tell us when there are big dieoffs of plant life on earth. At KT it shows a massive death of plants, but a total recovery in less than 100,000 years – a”single dip depression.”
Page 27: big “flood basalts” indicate when and where huge outbreaks of volcanoes have occurred. The big outbreaks of volcanoes match the big extinctions. The biggest of all was the “Siberian traps” (volcanoes) leading to PT. Next biggest was TJ,
the extinction which marks the boundary between the Triassic and the Jurassic, the first two of the three eras in the Mesozoic.
Page 29: Two big shelled organisms, cousins of clams, teemed in the oceans for most of its history: ammonites and nautiloids. Ward visited Zumaya, Spain, and showed the ammonites went extinct at KT, but nautiloids survived.

Chapter 2: The Overlooked Extinction:
Even after the dieoff of dinosaurs, there was a big dieoff of mammals, eliminating many basic types, at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary (P/E), and also a dieoff in the middle of the Cretaceous (late Mesozoic), which are instructive examples.
Page 43: Just as C12/C13 isotope ratios give us an historic measure of plant dieoffs, O16/O18 ratios give us an historic measure of the temperature of earth.
Page 45: Kennett/Stott report new data on P/E (Nature 1991): deep ocean warms suddenly and big dieoff of plants in deep ocean
Page 46: Kunio Kaiho 1991 says that the P/E dieoff was due to low O2 in the water. Why? Warm bottom had come from warm tropical surface waters where evaporation makes surface saltier, denser; then transported worldwide along bottom like a conveyer belt. (Not like today where cold O2 water flows to bottom at poles, from there worldwide.)
Page 49: Gingerich shows that at P/E land mammals experienced mass extinction at same time. Lots of amazing families of mammals were lost.
Page 51: At P/E, sudden increase in volcanic activity (ash) – volcanism and deep sea hydrothermal, aridity; winds reduced by factor of three, due to a lower difference in termperature between the poles and the equator, due to warming of the poles.
Page 53: SUMMARY OF what caused the dieoffs at P/E: first volcanoes and hydrothermal vents in the ocean, emitting greenhouse gasses; then warming; then warmth and resulting reduction of O2 in water O2 kills deep sea life, and some land mammals, but less than in the big 5 extinctions. Then the volcanoes slowed, and a slow return to normal.
Page 56: mid-Cretaceous: flowers blossom, ammonites mostly plentiful with clams and snails
Page 57-58: but in the geological beds of ammonites etc from that time, there is a six foot black bed of dieoff, the Cenomanian-Turonian ; Schlanger/Jenkyns showed 3 dieoffs over 20m years: ocean currents stopped, organic material rained down causing low O2 , anoxia ever higher .

Cbapter 3: Mother of all Extinctions (PT).
Page 62: South Africa, fossils dwindle gradually a million years up to PT, not sudden like KT. Towards the end, two land species survived -- Dicynodon, gorgon.
Page 64: alternation of red and olive layers right at PT boundary in the geological strata; just past that boundary of death, there were lots more fossils (recovery of life), all one species, Lystrosaurus a piggy reptile.
Page 67: At PT as many as 90% of species on earth disappeared.
Page 68 Erwin: PT took 165,000 years or less to happen, much slower than KT which was maybe only decades. O2 has been measured to be low both in shallow and in deep waters leading into the event. The low O2 killed many ocean organisms as quickly as red tides do today. Global warming and Siberian volcanoes happened at the same time.
Page 69: Erwin discussed several possible theories. Besides asteroids (now discredited unless you think they caused volcanoes), CO2 and methane from volcanoes may have caused climate change and acid rain, causing the dieoffs, as suggested by Paul Renne.
Pages 78-79: Krull/Retallack: coal formation stopped at PT, methane in air ‘way up. Temperature and sedimentation up; they say the sedimentation was due to runoff from deforrested land.
Page 79 Buick (an expert on the preCambrian extinction) proposed that PT was due to repeated insults, like maybe pulses of melting of methane hydrates, overturns of stratified oceans, volcanoes
Pages 81-82 Knoll (another preCambrian expert) proposes a theory: low O2 in LOWER ocean only, then something (volcanoes?) changes pattern, CO2 and dissolved biostuff bubbles up. Killer CO2. But models have problems with that; some shellfish die from CO2, but land animals wouldn’t be killed so easily by it.
Page 84: Ward’s data show not one extinction but several; one very big thousands of years, but several before and soon after., spread over several million years.
Page85: e.g. C12/C13 showed multiple dieoff, return, dieoff in photosynthesis levels.

Chapter 4: The Misinterpreted Extinction (refuting dumb asteroids)
Page 104: approaching Triassic/Jurassic, ammonites dwindle to zero. Clams too; a new clam, Monotis, apparently adapted to low-O2 bottoms, emerged but also disappeared in the final stage. All is dead in the Rhaetian, the last period within the Triassic, showing geological beds striped gray/black. Death in the seas and perhaps on land as well.
Page 105: Rhaetian 12 million years world dead except for oceanic plankton. (?)

Chapter 5: A New Paradigm for Mass Extinction
Page 109: Ward visits Palau (Micronesia) to study: why did ammonites outdo nautiloids at PT and TJ, but reverse and die off 100% at KT?
Page 111: he tracked nautiloids: they live at 1500 feet in day, 400-500 night to eat, stay deep and dark, versus ammonoids in more shallow. water PT and TJ were hard on deep guys, KT while killed shallow.
Page 112: Ward visited freshwater lake in island. Thin O2 rich layer at surface full of life, but below that -- no animals, no O2, purple color. Purple and green bacteria needed sunlight and sulfur. Third type(s) of life too small to see produced H2s as waste; only O2 kept them from surface.
Page 113: Lake was like Canfield ocean. (Don Canfield and Berner of Yale did classic research). Before the modern era (after preCambrian), oceans were highly toxic due to H2S saturation, vs O2-rich today top to bottom.
Page 114: Near Palau after Ward left: warm low-O2 water rose to surface, killed Palau corals, coral bleaching. Greenhouse gasses?
Page 115: We now rely on a recent breakthrough, “molecular fossils” or “biomarkers”: certain molecules like types of lipids left behind by certain types of microbes.
Page 116: We use new instruments -- gas chromatographic mass spectrometers -- to detect molecules left by bacteria which live in high H2S. Like photosynthetic purple bacerterium, today in Black Sea and Palau, which oxidize H2S and the like. They are one of the two kinds of bacteria which live in water low in O2, but high in light and H2S.
Page 117 Bombshell: Lee Kump and Mike Arthur (PSU) and Pavlov(UC) in 2005: lots of these bacteria near end of Permian, implicated in extinctions. In waters like Black Sea, purple and green live in “chemocline,” stable interface between O2 above and H2S below. But when H2S gets to the surface: “Kump hypothesis” for extinction.
Page 118: Kump shows H2S in late Permian from this source would be 2000 times more than what comes from today’s volcanoes. It is also enough to zap the ozone layer. PT fossil spores from Greenland show UV damage, verifying the ozone hole effect. Modern ocean plant biomass “rapidly decreases” under ozone holes. Also, CO2 and methane would be in the bubbles along with H2S.
Page 119: Kump used a global circulation model (GCM) to model what happened at PT. At end of Permian, sea level DROPPED, freeing phosphorus, fertilizing these bacteria in ocean from runoff. In 2006, Roger Summons of MIT showed biomarkers for H2S production at the PT boundary in nine sites.
Page 120: In March 2006, NASA hosts the world’s main meeting on astrobiology in DC astrobiology. At the extinction session, Kump model’s shows a series of burps, like actual data on extinctions, & enough H2S to kill most land life, and push shallow water life over due to H2S and acid from CO2 combined. Ward spoke too. Oceans did it, but why did they change state?
Page 123: Since the Eocene (one full period after the dinosaurs died off), O2 has been high evefrywhere in the ocean, shallow and deep, due to conveyer belt of currents driven by big temperature differences between poles and tropics. But this “mixed ocean” (like a well-stirred aquarium) is basically new in earth history.
Page 124: older oceans all had low O2 at bottom. They left lots of pyrite – fool’s gold, formed where there is high sulfur but low oxygen. Ocean was stratified by temperature, salinity, dissolved O and reduced carbon. (Like CO2..) Most of earth history was like this. O2 above, not below. This also caused formation of black shales on the ocean bottom, going back 3.5 billion years. When life in shallow water sinks to that kind of low oxygen bottom, it yields nice well-preserved fossils.
Page 125: There are wo varieties of stratified ocean – low O2 bottom, vs. almost no O2 in the bottom layers. No animals live in the deep layers either way, but really low O2 encourages more sulfur producing microbes; that’s a Canfield ocean. Before Cambrian, the microbes producing H2S also inhibited nitrogen fixation, a double killer.
Page 126. Kliti Grice et al, Science 2005, showed Canfield ocean by biomarkers at PT. TJ maybe, now (2007) being checked.
Page 127: what causes ocean to switch between mixed versus stratified versus Canfield? CHANGE between the three causes extinctions, and is driven by conveyer system. 2005: Jeffrey Kiehl and Christine Shields of NCAR used GCM, to show global warming would move the conveyer belt..
Page 128: by end of Permian, Earth had lost its ice caps. That already gives low O2 stratified ocean. WARD’S THEORY: At PT and P/E, GHG from volcanoes (1st Siberia, 2nd Atlantic Ocean) gave huge greenhouse gas emission, the trigger which changed the oceans.
Page 129: PT was bigger because there was burping of noxious gas from virtually all shallow water on earth; unlike Paleocene, rich in CO2 and CH4, the latter accelerating warming. Anthony Hallam and Paul Wignall’s book Mass Extinctions… showed that 12 of 14 included low O2 oceans.

Chapter : The Driver of Extinction (atmosphere as trigger to low O2 ocean and change in conveyer belt).
Page 133: Two ways to estimate past CO2: best a program by Berner of Yale, GEOCARB and GEOCARBSULF (for O2?) using isotope data, second measure fossil leaves. Of course, GHG explain climate changes.
Page 135-136: FIGURE: CO2 by year… all extinctions have also been CO2 peaks. Rapid rise preceded all but one or two extinctions. Rate important, not just level.
Page 136: confirmed by leaf approach. Before industry, earth was on course to C locked up, low CO2 problem.
Page 137: SUMMARY OF WARD’S THEORY: step 1, vast increase in CO2 and methane from volcanoes. Step 2: warmer world disrupts conveyer system, more low O2 bottom. Step 3: when chemocline is shallow enough for light to reach it, H2S producing bacteria go nuts. Step 4, H2S destroys ozone layer. Page 138: Wards calls it “conveyer disruption hypothesis.”
Page 139-141: green scary poetry about what it really looks like

Chapter 7: Bridging the Deep and the Near Past
Page 142: There has been remarkably little cooperation between people studying modern climate change (since the pliocene) and people like Ward studying older earth history. The most viable connection would be between the study of oceanic thermohaline conveyer currents and the study of extinctions.
Page 143: A quick swipe at the movie “Day After Tomorrow” (“ a mockery”)
Pages 144-146: Very rapid climate change has been the norm for the past 200,000 years full of unusual ice ages. See the work of Minze Stuiver, U Washington, using Greenland Ice cores. Been But the last 10,000 years have relatively calm. Average temperature would change as much as 18 degrees F in a few decades, 10 in one decade. The calm starts human civilization?
Page 147: But there wasn’t such change in the southern hemisphere (we think, but need to check more). Ward shows a poorly labelled figure on “temperature variation”. Most now believe fluctuations in the past 200,000 years are largely
due to orbital variations found by Malutin Milankovich.
Page 148: The study of orbits suggests we would normally remain calm another 10,000 years or so.
Page 149: For recent years (past 2.5 million years), people say the conveyer belt has turned on and off, not changed type. (Just in the north?) Willi Dansgaard
first, then Hans Oeschger reported this. Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles are cycles within a larger pattern, discussed by Gerard Bond. The pattern includes Heinrich events, severe icing of the north Atlantic, which happened six times in the past 100,000 years.
Page 152: turning the currents on and off cause warm periods, or v ice-versa? We don’t know, but we do know that cold fresh water melting off from Greenland has scary implications for the Gulf Stream, with some early measurements justifying (PJW: but not yet proving) worry.
Page 159: East Anglia model predicts BIGGER ice age 50K years hence, rebound from our warming, when fossil fuel is used up.
Page 160: Ruddiman has an interesting book suggesting humans have contributed to warming (and calmer climate) since 8000BC. Not just CO2; methane.
Page 164 Vostok ice cores measure CO2 and CH4 back 2 million years. 500 to 600 ppm would be equivalent to times with little or no ice.
Page 166: for most of geologic time CO2 was much higher g than today, yet acidity was mostly not so different. That’s because oceans can buffer the acidity caused by higher CO2, but BUFFERING TAKES TIME, therefore rate matters. CO2 is now rising about 100 times fast as it ever did, creating a huge risk of acidity (PJW: as was decisive in some periods of earth history)
Page 174-175 heat causes drug use and malaria

Interview with Battisti of U Wash.. imagine future conveyer and story…
195: clouds (recall NASA fast story)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

An old dream about science fiction writers and Jesus

An old dream about science fiction writers and Jesus

A few months ago, I found myself eating beef brisket and drinking beer
in a barbecue place in Memphis, with one of the world’s top cognitive neuroscientists who happened to be a Christian as well. After a bit, I ‘fessed up and told an old story… and they said I had a duty to jot it down somewhere. OK. Here it is.

‘Way back in the 1970’s (1972 to 1978), I had a habit of experimenting with things
like “out of body travel” (which I concluded is quite real but quite different from what most people imagine it is). Some friends had pointed out a book called “Sanctum Celeste” in French, which proposed a particular meeting place “in the astral plane” where, they said, one could learn more about these things. if only one could get there. So one day I decide “OK, why not? I’ll try.” It involved visualizing a place a bit like a cathedral in appearance…

And so… it seemed I was floating through a kind of space, and entered
a vast unearthly cathedral. But no… not exactly what I had imagined.
As I drifted forwards, I mainly looked at the big guys moving in the opposite direction (towards the entrance to the cathedral), about twice my size, who
had warped themselves (flattened and stretched) to where they almost looked like
walking crosses with relatively small appendages for feet, hands at head,
and expressions on the face like some of those paintings of Jesus with a void
look on his face… stigmata and all that.

This wasn’t the kind of place I had intended to go to, but I kept moving forwards.

As I did so, and approached the area where one expects an altar in a Catholic cathedral… I noticed a funny little door to the left, in a wood paneled wall.
Out of some kind of curiosity… or light feeling… I decided to check it out,
open it and look to see what it was. As I opened it, a friendly voice spoke:

“Hi! I’m Jesus. I’m happy to see you. I don’t get a whole lot of visitors here these days. All those big guys out there are really too interested in themselves and their own thoughts to pay much attention to me, so I’m really glad when someone stops by.

“So let me see… how can I help you? I see you read a lot of science fiction. OK, I have some recommendations for you. Four authors… let me show you… and try to remember…

“OK, have a nice day..”

Of the four, I am most certain two were Dan Simmons and R.A. MacAvoy. I’m pretty sure Orson Scott Card was one, too… but I totally forget who was fourth.

The funny thing is… when I checked…. There were no books at all by R.A. MacAvoy
or Simmons which looked like what he showed me. That was disconcerting to me, since it seemed so real. But in fact, those books did come out in the coming years.
And they were worth reading. (For MacAvoy, it was the Damiano series; for Simmons
it was the entire Hyperion series, though I would view his Muse of Fire as
inspired too.)

I also felt a shiver up m spine when I heard the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “The Cathedral,” which sounded like the same kind of experience. I played that album a number of times when I was going to bed for awhile after I heard it.

Card’s series “Song of Earth” reminds me a bit of the major tome giving policy
for the Mehlevi Order of Sufis, which I received as a gift in the one time I went to
Istanbul a year or two ago. Among other things, it mentioned the age-old belief that certain kinds of abilities seem to run in families… to have a genetic component.

That kind of belief is easily (even routinely) abused. (I think of some of the well-meant work of Katherine Neville.) Western traditions have stressed how anyone can develop any capabilities, given the right time, motivation, preparation and effort – and that, after all, we all have souls, not only us humans but other mammals at least.

Yet at that time in Istanbul, I had been revisiting that assumption, in part because of discussions with Kurweil people. I had asked… suppose I build a computer which not only had mouse-like intelligence plus the mirror neuron kind of capabilities we see in humans… but also add second-generation quantum computing abilities… would such systems really “have soul,” really interface with what we call “spiritual reality”? It seemed unlikely… which suggested that the good old physical plant we use does have something to it… not unlike Card’s description… and not unlike those old folk beliefs we do seem to see at work.

The Mehlevi Order position now is that those who inherit such things simply do not need their training and support, because “they already have it,” while others do.

But I think this is a mistake, like the belief that those with natural talents in mathematics “will do fine anyway, so we don’t need to bother about them.” In actuality, there are cases I think of… where there WILL be an impact, yes, because of people’s inheritance, whatever that be… but the SIGN of the impact depends a lot on the environment.

I am reminded of this today, because of a guy in his 40’s who is complaining about what my generation (baby boomers) have done to the world, and is gloating about what his generation will do.

But in fact… yes… baby boomers and their thoughts have had decreasing influence since a peak somewhere between Kennedy and Clinton… but it never was 100%..
and the 40’s guys are very much on their way out too.

We made a hell of a lot of mistakes… yet in the larger history of the world, I can think of only two periods of 40 years or so of comparable peace and prosperity –
the famous “Pax Augusta” period (when Jesus was alive) and the latter nineteenth century maybe 1870-1910 or so.

What happens now?

With the new generation… the teenagers… I am reminded of the part where Jesus says something like: “When you see a lowly person or beggar, beware! It may be me
in that guise, testing you. Ask yourself how you would treat them if you knew it was me, and if you knew you were supposed to treat them as you would treat me.”

The recent Republican primaries do give some feeling for the lack of determinism,
and the groping… of the same generation which chose Obama over Hilary Clinton…

And it is coming to their turn.

Best of luck to us all…


Added later:

I can imagine some folks asking "Hey, what was Jesus like in this dream?
Why did you tell us about the books and not about Him?"

Fair enough.

I talked mainly about the books because that is where he was directing my attention.
He wasn't sitting there saying"worship me, worship me." In fact, he was standing pretty much the whole time, after I came in the room.

Yet... I do have something of a primary memory of him, still, even after more
than thirty years.

He was a very normal guy. In fact, he was so normal than most of the fancy folks
in Washington or on the boards of big corporations probably would filter him out, and not remember. In fact, he was so normal that it's almost strange... most people have some kind of visible abnormality, like worries or defense mechanisms. Maybe it's my own filters speaking... but he seemed unusually sane (a topic discussed at great length in my 2012 paper in Neural Networks). No weird expression of
self-flagellation (as in some of the imaginary paintings) or suffering or even distraction, nor the opposite kind of unhealthy fuzzy pleasure. Unusually clear eyes,
colored by a clear kind of benevolence and benign sense of humor. And focus on
how he could be helpful.

He was certainly friendly and inviting... but he did not have the kind of probing forceful expression of warmth that I have seen at times in the eyes of Karl Pribram.
(I remember going to a restaurant with Karl Pribram and Sam Leven and others...
and Sam later saying with great glee "There he is, this 70-year-old man, not misbehaving in any way.. and when he just LOOKS at the females in the room, they just melt all over him...the intense projection of love from his eye..." Well, that isn't
what I saw here, under these conditions... though I sense that he could have done that if he felt it would be helpful... )

In a way, he reminded me of some engineers and designers I have known, who are not ego driven but driven to try to produce things really useful to people... or to keep their companies productive despite the best efforts of some upper management to drive them into bankruptcy.

That reminds me of the question: "What WAS the fourth book he recommended?" But I don't remember...