Finding One’s Tomorrowland Pin

“Tomorrowland” is an epic disaster of a movie, with annoying characters, a nonsensical plot, and a ridiculous premise – that the problems of the world are because people are no longer inspired by the utopias pushed by Disneyland and the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Seriously – it says that we’re depressed these days because we never did get jetpacks.

Yet there was a bit in this movie that did resonate with me – the Tomorrowland pin:


When the teenage heroine touches it, she is immediately transported to the parallel dimension that all the innovators have escaped to:

tomorrowland_wheat-fieldYes, those are amber waves of grain, purple mountains’ majesty, and an alabaster city undimmed by human tears – the ideal America right from the anthem.  Subtle this movie is not.

But I myself once saw such a pin.  Or rather, I saw an image that affected me so strongly that it changed my life’s direction.  It was in 1969, and I was a kid bicycling along a rundown commercial street.   In the midst of the pizza places and the garages and the hair salons, there was a used book store.   In its window was this:


The text at the bottom reads:
Metalliding Seventy-Five Cents
August 1969

It’s a picture of two molybdenum wires, both heated to a yellow glow at 1000C.  The one on the right has been treated with a new process called metalliding that diffused silicon into it, and so can withstand the high temperature.   The one on the left hasn’t been treated, and is oxidizing and boiling away.

At that age I didn’t know what this picture was, and couldn’t have understood the description.  It was just a serenely beautiful image.   Every other image on the street or in that bookstore was trying to sell something.   This just glowed there, like a Russian icon amidst candy wrappers.

So that’s what the technical world was like, thought my younger self.  It was a different place, a cleaner place.   Most of the paperbacks in that store had covers with girls or monsters or weapons.  This was something else.   This was the kind of world I wanted to be in.

Did you ever see such an image?   Maybe for you it was a line of poetry, or an equation, or a psalm, or a scene from a drama – something that gave you a glimpse of the world where you belonged.  Maybe it started you on a road to that world, as it did me.    I ended up in the world of engineering, where we rarely actually see things of the Zen purity of the above image.  Yet the clean solution is what we always strive for, and are proud to show off to each other.  My Tomorrowland pin was a magazine cover from long ago.  What was yours?

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