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Tech Q&A

Harm de Blij

Describe your latest project.
I am working on the revision of a textbook (the bestselling college text on geography in America, more than 1.2 million copies in eleven editions). Also several professional articles, and planning something for the trade market on dogs, perhaps titled "Dogs I Have Known."

What inspires you to sit down and write?
I have been inspired to sit down and write by several circumstances: an attractive idea, an expensive divorce, a costly mortgage. Sometimes my concern over this nation's geographic illiteracy and its risk to our national security causes me to try to put these thoughts into words in books, articles, and (many unpublished) letters to editors. Maybe inspiration isn't the word.

Describe about your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
May I refer you to a small book still in print, Wartime Encounter with Geography. I was in the Netherlands during World War II's Nazi occupation, and one of the things that sustained me was my parents' library, in which I found atlases and books, the latter on, among other topics, geography. By the time the war was over and I went back to school, I had the great fortune to have an inspiring geography teacher, Mr. Eric de Wilde, whose classes were — and are — unforgettable. He was so good at what he did that I have tried to emulate him ever since, and I owe my career to his early guidance.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
Favorite book(s) of those difficult, cold, and hungry days was a series by a writer named Hendrik Willem van Loon, whose tales of tropical countries where food hung from trees were key to survival and hope. They had simple titles — The Indies, The Great Tropical Ocean, etc. — but they were great works.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
Stem cell research, gene research, nuclear fusion research, ceramics, many things are in progress and will transform medicine and other arenas.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best high school subject: geography, what else?
Worst: mathematics. Bad thing: in modern geography you need the latter badly.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
USA leads today, of course, and will in ten years — but the gap with the rest of the world is narrowing and if we allow religious extremists to interfere in key arenas of research (stem cell, gene) we will fall behind — not soon overall, but in key areas shortly.

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