Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe. This is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind with a short attention span, this episode, number one, 64, and it's called A Line in the Sand, A Line in the Sand. I say it like that because if you're going to draw a line in the sand, you better be serious about it. People drawing lines in the sand, it seems, all over the place nowadays.
Ultimatums filling the air, filling the airwaves. Do this or else? Well, in my experience, if you're going to draw a line in the sand, you better be prepared to do the or else. Otherwise your credibility shall fly out the window, never to return. I have a partner, a wonderful woman named Mary Sullivan. Some of you have heard me speak of her before. When I met Mary 15 years ago, she was the managing partner at a law firm in Los Angeles.
And she took me on as a client very graciously out of the kindness of her heart and helped keep me out of the deep end of the pool for a couple of years. And as we got to know each other, she she liked what I was doing. She liked the idea I had for building a business around the themes of dirty jobs. She like micro works. She liked the idea of a foundation to help close the skills gap. And when I finally convinced her to leave her job at this prestigious law firm, she said, I only have one request.
And I said, OK. And she said, and it's not really a request, to be honest, it's a demand. I said, OK, she said, I'll back whatever position you want me to take in the midst of a negotiation. I'll I'll take whatever line you want me to take. But if you're going to draw a line and you back up from that line, I will leave you. And I believed her. I believed her.
And for that reason, I've been very cautious over the years with regard to drawing lines in the sand. I've been very cautious with issuing ultimatums.
And so I say all that because the the gentleman I'm about to introduce you to, I believe, would probably say the same thing. He did, however, draw a very real line in some very real sand and the results change the world. I will introduce him to you forthwith, but not until I first take a moment to ever so subtly congratulate myself and the people I work with. Over at Micro Works, we are this month awarding over a million dollars and work ethic scholarships to roughly 230 applicants.
We are thrilled to be able to announce this. Mary and I are both really excited to be entering our 13th year. The aforementioned Mary Sullivan. So too is Chuck Klausmeier and Jade Estrada and Libby and Laura and Sherry and all the people over at Mike Rowe Works.
This is a it's a big deal for us because after pushing this boulder up the hill for a long time, we're finally starting to see some real enthusiasm around learning a skill and mastering a trade. I just point this out because I know that many of you who listen to the podcast have supported micro works. So I appreciate that lots of companies out there support our organization. I'll thank them separately a little later. But I do want to give a shout out right now to one of those companies.
It's Wolverine. Wolverine has been such a good friend to this podcast and to my foundation. They, too, are committed to closing America's skills gap. I'm wearing a pair of their thousand milers right now. I've been wearing their boots for for many years. And when we finally had a chance to meet four or five years ago, well, we shared a lot of real estate on the old Venn diagrams. And Wolverine has since donated more than 200000 dollars to micro works, specifically to our work ethic scholarship program.
And I just appreciate that a lot. So, too, am I grateful for their generous support vis a vis the boots themselves. Every year, our scholarship recipients receive a pair of Wolverine work boots. They're the best work boots you can get, and they've offered over a thousand pairs so far. So they've just been terrific partners, which is why I hope you won't mind if I direct you, especially if you're in the market for a new pair of boots over the Wolverine Dotcom mike because of Wolverine dotcom slash mike.
When you enter the promo code, Mike twenty five, you can save twenty five dollars off any purchase. Over 150 bucks. Workboats can get expensive for sure, especially those that are made in the USA with the kind of care that goes into every single pair of Wolverine boots. So poke around on the website, save 25 bucks off any purchase. So over 150 dollars, that's Wolverine Dotcom, Mike promo code is Mike 25, and I'm not drawing a line in the sand, right?
I'm not I'm not telling you if you don't go over there and buy some boots that we can't be friends anymore, whether I'm going to quit the podcast, I'm just saying the boots are terrific.
And Wolverine's a wonderful company. Having said all of that, where where we are. Yes. He drew a line in the sand. This guy did. At least that's the way I heard it. When the technology was first demonstrated for the president of the United States, he was astonished. Amazing, he said simply amazing. Would you like to try it, sir? Yes, he said, I believe I would. Flanked by his security detail, the president selected a target at random and activated the device.
The technology took care of the rest. Amazing, he murmured, simply. Amazing.
It was an understandable reaction to a technological breakthrough that would impact millions of people and transform the global economy. Perhaps if the president knew his reaction would destroy his bid for re-election and make You-Know-Who a household name.
He'd have been less effusive. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to where the technology was born. Miami Beach, nineteen forty nine, where a young engineer named Norman Woodland lounged in the warm sand, waiting for inspiration to wash over him. Like most professional problem solvers, Norman knew that solutions often came when he allowed his mind to wander. So on this particular day at the beach, he wasn't trying to change the world. He was simply relaxing in the sand, watching the girls go by and recalling his years in the Boy Scouts of America.
For Norman, the Boy Scouts had been a life changer.
That's where he learned to shoot a gun, build a teepee, sail a boat, make a fire, communicate with Morse code and navigate his way out of a forest. Thanks to scouting, Norman had adjusted to army life with ease. And thanks to his unique ability to solve tricky problems, he wound up working at Oak Ridge Laboratories, where he helped develop the first atomic bomb. Norman smiled to himself wistfully. What does an engineer do after splitting the atom and making the world safe for democracy?
Whatever the answer was, doodling aimlessly in the wet sand seemed like an unlikely answer until he looked down and saw what he had doodled in w his initials. But the letters didn't look like an N or a W.. They looked like two dots and three dashes for no particular reason. Norman dragged his fingers away from the dots and the dashes, leaving five vertical lines in the wet sand with five vertical spaces in between. Interesting, muttered Norman as he pondered the lines in the sand.
A pretty girl walked by in a bikini that left little to the imagination. Norman smoothed the lines over and quickly spelled out another word. Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dot, dash, dash s e x y.
The girl in the skimpy bikini was smiling at him, but Norm didn't notice he was pulling his fingers through the sand again, more deliberately. This time the result twelve vertical lines with twelve vertical spaces in between, one for every dot and one for every dash. Good Lord, he thought. Could it be this simple? Could the lines be Xeros? Could the spaces be ones? Norman spent the next few hours doodling in the sand and as he doodled he felt the same rush of excitement he'd felt in the lab at Oak Ridge because Norman knew he was onto something big, something universal, something that would affect more people than the atomic bomb, including the outcome of a future election and the sudden ubiquity of You-Know-Who.
It took a few decades for the actual technology to catch up with the underlying idea. But by the late 70s, Norman's new language was being translated all over the country. And shortly after that, all over the world. Finally, forty three years after his brain storm on the beach, Norman Woodland was invited to the White House, where he was presented with a long overdue National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Ironically, it was George H.W. Bush who awarded him the medal.
Ironic because just a few months earlier, President Bush had made a campaign stop at the National Grocers Association, where he was invited to try Norman's technology for himself, which he did by.
Dragging a carton of milk over a glass surface that magically determined its cost in a millisecond. Amazing. President Bush had said simply amazing.
President Bush's astonishment was typical of any consumer in 1976 who saw Norman's technology in action for the first time.
Unfortunately, this was not 1976. This was 1992.
And the president's reaction to a simple laser scanner in a checkout line was captured on video video that ran on the evening news, prompting viewers to wonder if the president had ever been inside an actual grocery store video that inspired The New York Times to publish a front page article that compared his reaction with that of a man seeing fire for the very first time overnight, a new narrative was born. President Bush became the candidate who was out of touch with the common man and elitist who understood nothing about the challenges facing everyday Americans.
The press described him as a man who lacked the common touch, a devastating accusation that doomed his bid for reelection and made You-Know-Who a household name. In other words, not long after he helped develop a new kind of bomb.
A former Boy Scout named Norman Woodland helped develop a new kind of language, a language of zeros and ones inspired by Morse code, a strange kind of language that first appeared as lines in the sand but went on to become the lines of the universal product code now found on the packages of everything.
We buy the same lines that cost George Bush a second term in the White House and pave the way for Bill Clinton, a man who understood the importance of the common touch, a touch that may have become a bit too common when he crossed another kind of line with, you know who, a 22 year old cigar aficionado whose name is now no less memorable than that of the president. She served the name of a devoted intern. Called Monica Lewinsky. Anyway, that's the way I heard it.