Interview Jeff Bass, Bass Institute (Part 2)

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the Bass Institute managed to attract a loyal following with it’s SAS language compiler, ultimately bowing to the financial pressures and technological pressures of the move to the Desktop. In the year 2009, as SAS language gains a new compiler in terms of the WPS, AND computing paradigms begin to shift to cloud computing from the desktop- Jeff Bass, founder of Bass Institute and genius tech coder brings a perspective rich in experience.

If we don’t learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it.

Ajay- Describe your career in science. How would you motivate children in class rooms today to be as excited about science as the moon generation was?

J Bass- My graduate training was in economics and statistics.  I have used that training in ways that I would never have anticipated when I was in graduate school 30 years ago.  But it is still exciting for me.  I started out building microeconomic models, then went on to write statistical language compliers and build health policy macroeconomic models.  These days I develop and articulate health policy to help increase patient’s access to cutting edge medicines.  The company I work for now is very science based and even applies scientific thinking, measurement and testing of alternatives in the business side of its operations.

I spend volunteer time as a guest teacher at local middle schools, high schools and community colleges.  I often talk about math and statistics and have found that one way to help motivate students is to give them “fun” example problems.  I often use an example of the 1969 lunar orbital calculations to motivate basic trigonometry and quite a number of students who say they don’t like math end up loving solving parts of that problem.  I think our school curriculums need to come up with problems and examples that the students find interesting.  I’m not sure our existing curricula processes make this an easy thing to do.  All too often we teach techniques without combining that teaching with strong motivating examples that make learning fun.

Ajay-  What are the changes in paradigms that you have seen across the decades? What are the key insights and summaries that you can provide.

J Bass- Our increasing understanding of biology and DNA is a major paradigm shift that is combining molecular biology and protein chemistry with computer science.  Identifying the human DNA sequence was only the beginning.  Imagine that you were handed the bit sequence of a CD-ROM and were told to figure out what parts of it were a text document, what parts were a JPEG photograph and what parts were an MP3 music file – if you did NOT know the coding schemes of such files.  That’s analogous to where we are today with DNA sequences…we know the ATCG sequence, but we are only scratching the surface of understanding the things that the DNA sequence codes for – proteins, cell metabolism, differentiating cell reproduction. It is an exciting time where multidisciplinary convergences are going to cause big leaps in our understanding of the way the world works.  Our traditional undergraduate and graduate education programs tend to provide specialists rather than generalists.  I think that the coming decades will need a new breed of generalists who can bridge the learning that is taking place in diverse areas.

Ajay-  Open source is just a flash in the pan- ultimately someone has to pay the rent for the programmers. Comment please.

J Bass- I think that open source is here to stay and is an important driving force behind continuing software innovation.  Charging for software licenses is not the only way to reward programmers.  Selling consulting and support services, or add on software often seems to pay well enough to keep the open source model thriving.  The Linux kernel project is run by volunteers (and still led by Linus Torvalds after many years and multiple job changes) and many of these volunteers are salaried programmers and engineers for software firms that benefit from open source.  Quite a few of the open source volunteers are working on their open source project as part of their “day job” responsibilities.  Some open source projects– R, for example — seem to have a lot of the time spent by their contributors being related to their “day job”, like academic statisticians who are trying to code and test new algorithms as part of their published research.  Open source often becomes a big part of important commercial products as well.  I personally use Apple computers and the Mac OS is a wonderful product developed at least in part from BSD Unix open source roots.  There is a Mac OS X related open source operating system called Darwin that is supported in part by Apple staff programmers.  The synergies between open source development and commercial software product development are widespread and likely to continue.  I have been a supporter of the Free Software Foundation (see for years and I think they are doing good work by keeping the “free software” vs. “open source” controversy alive.

Ajay-  What does Jeff Bass do in his spare time today?

J Bass- I am involved in charity work more and more as I get older.  I am on the National Board of Directors of the Arthritis Foundation and I help that organization to raise money for patient education, camps for kids with arthritis and disease research.  One way I raise funds is by participating in an 8 day,  525 mile bicycle tour – the Arthritis Foundation California Coast Classic – to raise funds and awareness for arthritis programs and research.  I have ridden that tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles 7 times and it has turned bicycling into a year round hobby and fitness regimen for me.  Not something I ever would have expected myself to be involved in (you can visit to learn more).  I have also been working on my private pilot’s license and am I am working to design and build an electric airplane using lithium polymer batteries.  I have a large array of solar panels on the roof of my house and I drive an electric car powered by them.  I hope to one day fly a plane powered by them as well.

This is part two of the interview with the founder of Bass Institute, Jeff Bass. You can see part of the interview here

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