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The Sophia Project, and Wisdom from Rebecca Moore

RMoore 1A brilliant interview … with much food for thought. Everything furthers.


I Used To Think The Right Answer Was To Lead A Balanced Life

Lessons on living from a Googler who’s saving the world with maps.


Nico Pitney Senior Editor, The Huffington Post


Sophia is a project to collect life lessons from fascinating people. You can share your own wisdom here


Today we hear from Rebecca Moore, who founded and oversees Google Earth Outreach, which helps nonprofits use Google’s mapping technology to tackle issues like deforestation, climate change, and disease outbreaks.

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What is a recent realization you’ve had about living a more rewarding/ fulfilling life?

When I was younger, I used to think that the right answer was to lead a balanced life. That’s what you hear. And I’m not balanced. Like, instead of doing exercise for this part of the day, and spiritual stuff for that part of the day, and work for this part of the day, I do things in epochs in my life. I was like an insane rock-climbing mountaineer for 10 years. And then I was insanely into academia and education. And now I’m insanely into saving the planet with maps through my work. My life has been really different in each of those phases. I’ve decided that’s fine.

I have a very dear friend, Victoria Sweet, she’s a physician, she’s a scholar, she’s an author, she recently published a book—very highly regarded, award-winning, called God’s Hotel. She runs two miles a day, she writes for four hours, and then she takes the rest of the day off. And she does this every day.

I used to aspire to that. But that’s not me. So, we admire each other, even though I do things very differently from the way she does it. I think what I’ve learned is: I don’t have to lead a balanced life every day. I just have to lead a life that works for me. It’s balanced in aggregate.

Relationships are part of that, too. You have relationships, and those are part of your daily existence. They’ve been part of my life, but not every day. And that’s fine.

What do you feel is the most helpful thing your parents did for you that many parents don’t do?

I really admired my parents. My dad was an attorney. He was quite intellectual—Harvard, Harvard Law. But he was also an activist. He argued a civil rights case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court and won. Then Greenpeace approached him and asked him if he would help, because there was kind of a similar case.

It seems odd that an environmental issue and a civil rights issue would need the same kind of legal remedy, but his approach was basically: Should the public have legal standing before federal regulatory agencies? In the 1960s, they didn’t. The public didn’t matter.

So in the civil rights case, an NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi was extremely discriminatory. Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, was assassinated, and it related to what was happening on this television station. The public rose up and said this television station needs to have their license revoked.

They put an argument together to the [Federal Communications Commission] that this broadcast license for this NBC station in Mississippi should be revoked. The FCC said: “You don’t have any standing. You don’t have any legal even right to express an opinion to us, because you’re just the public. Only those who have an economic stake in a broadcast license have any legal standing to present a brief to us.” 

So my dad argued that the public, who had bought television sets within the radius of the NBC station’s transmitter, had spent more money on their TVs than the station owner was spending on operating the station. So they did have an economic stake in what was broadcast.

It eventually was appealed to the Supreme Court. My dad argued it and won.

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So the public now had standing, had the right to express an opinion. So then Greenpeace approached him and said, “We’re trying to present some arguments to the Environmental Protection Agency, and they’re saying we don’t have standing because we’re just the public.” So he took that on—he did these for free—he took that on pro bono and won again.

Now it’s a precedent that they teach in law school, that the public has standing before federal regulatory agencies. The public has the right to have their opinions heard.

That was really influential on me. I learned that you can use your profession and make a difference. It’s not like you can either be an activist or you can be a lawyer. You can actually be both.

Then my older brother was a painter, an artist, Frank Moore. He was very influential. He would do paintings that The New Yorker described as Hieronymus Bosch meets the Hudson River School. They were allegorical paintings that wove together themes of environmental and human health. And he had AIDS, he lived with AIDS for 15 years. He was the person who conceived the red ribbon.

So again, I used to follow him around because he was just unbelievably creative, and could do anything, was very inspiring. He was an artist-activist.


Meanwhile, I’m this computer scientist, and I’m doing jobs in Silicon Valley, building Pascal compilers and voicemail systems and things like that. They were both huge fans of me, advisors of me, they were my heroes. They were like, “You could do more, Rebecca. You could do more with your talents, your gifts to make a difference.”

I always had this feeling that I was supposed to do something that mattered, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then my father died in 2001 and my brother died five months later. It rocked my world. Everything stopped, because they were gone now.

I felt like the baton was really being passed to me. What are you going to do? Time is short. What are you spending your time on? Is that what really matters? How can you make a difference with your gifts?

So I quit my job, and I spent three years trying to answer that question. I went back to school in bioinformatics, because the human genome had just been sequenced and there was this new era of personalized medicine, where based upon your genetic profile, using computer analysis and artificial intelligence and all this stuff that I was very good at, we would be able to give better diagnoses, better treatments.

I thought that’s it. Right? Obviously, right? Like who doesn’t want to cure cancer? So I threw myself into that for three years, and I got A+s and got a degree. It was intellectually interesting and there were all these opportunities. But it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the right answer.

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Meanwhile, while it’s going on, I live in the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s very different up there. It’s surprisingly rural even though we’re half an hour from Silicon Valley. The roads are all managed by the communities—we pave our own roads, we clear the brush; if trees fall down, the guys get the chainsaws out and clear the road. We have our own water systems that we manage.

We know when the next big earthquake happens, it’s going to be a long time before anybody comes to help us. But I love that, because it’s a surprisingly frontier feeling.

So there I am in school on bioinformatics, and suddenly I guess what happened is, everything got much simpler for me. Instead of figuring out, How am I going to cure cancer? How are you going to argue a case before the Supreme Court or invent the red ribbon? I thought, just do something small.

Just look out in your neighborhood. What can you do that’s small? Get rid of your ego about all this. It’s not about Rebecca Moore saving the world. If you really want to make a difference, start making a difference in a way that no one would consider to be important, but you know it’s helpful.

So I started looking for opportunities to do that. There was a case where one of my neighbors called 911 because her husband was having a medical emergency, and it took two hours for the ambulance to get to their house. There were no maps of our roads because they’re not managed by the county, they’re managed by us. It was crazy. The map of my road that the emergency responders had was shocking—hand-drawn in pencil from 1983. You’re like, this cannot be the map. It’s the map that was proudly used by the police, the sheriff, the fire department.


Forests of the Santa Cruz mountains in California.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Forests of the Santa Cruz mountains in California.

So I was kind of concerned. Meanwhile, there were new GPS devices and different mapping tools, and I was like, “What if I made a map of our road that had all the houses, and it was accurate, and I gave that to you. Would you guys use it?” And they were like, “Sure.”

So I started to look around for different mapping software and I stumbled on Keyhole. That’s what became Google Earth. I was like, this is unbelievable. You’ve got all the satellite imagery, you’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the topography. All the roads were there, so all I have to do is overlay our house information and it can route for you. This is amazing.

I also organized to make a community network of hiking trails. My neighbors and I, we all have like 10 acres, with old logging roads and deer paths. But when people want to go hiking, they get in their car, and they drive 45 minutes to a state park. I’m like, that’s crazy! We live in this beautiful area with huge canyons—you should see it. Why don’t we organize ourselves and just connect my deer path to your logging trail? And people were like, “Okay.”

So again, I used mapping and so forth to do that. I ended up making this big map of our mountain region that had all of the fire departments and all of the emergency response and different features on it. The volunteer fire department said, “Oh, my God, where did you get that? We’ll pay you anything for that.” And I said how could this be? I’m just sort of self-taught in this. How is it that this is some major breakthrough?

This sounds like I’m bragging, but I began to realize that there was really a gap in our community around having information for emergency response, for recreation, for safety, that could be solved with modern digital maps. And with things like Keyhole and GPS devices, anyone could make a map. And I loved it, because my background was in hiking and nature, and I’ve always been a map geek.

So how did this lead you to Google? 

Well, it’s funny. I was doing projects using three different mapping technologies that were out at that time. I learned a lot of lessons from that, and I thought Google might be interested in this, because Google had just bought one of them, Keyhole.

Meanwhile, I was continually breaking Keyhole. I would send bug reports in like, “I broke it in this way. I think there’s a condition between the client and the server. I can replicate it in the following way.” And I kept sending these in. They’re finally like, “Who are you and what are you doing?” 

I said, “I’m happy to come in and talk to you about it.” So they invited me to come in, and now they were part of Google. Google Earth had not yet come out. But they had bought Keyhole, and they were moving it over to the Google infrastructure.

I came in and gave a tech talk about building community geoportals using these three different mapping technologies, and what I thought was the best one and why. And of course I ended up saying I thought Keyhole was the best. If Google just did these 10 things, it would just knock it out of the park. And they said, “Do you want a job?” And I said, “Yes. I do.” So that’s how it started.

In fact, when they interviewed me, they said, “We’re thinking of calling it Google Earth. What do you think about that?” I’m like, “It’s bold. Google Earth. It’s bold, but I think you could do it. I think you could pull it off.” And, of course, they did. We did.

You found a way to merge this work with activism. 

Google Earth came out in June. I got the job offer in July, I was going to start in the end of August. And in August I got this map in the mail. You see that, black and white?

All my 2,000 neighbors and I, we get that map, we get that notice in the mail:“Notice  of Intent to Harvest Timber” around our houses.

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The CDF [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection], they rubber-stamp timber harvest plants. If we were going to stop the logging, the citizens needed to rise up with factual data to prove that the plan was not only a bad idea, but it was illegal. And Google Earth was our secret weapon. Like David and Goliath, Google Earth was our slingshot.

So it was literally as I was starting at Google that I looked at that and said, you know what? In order to understand that better, I want to remap it on Google Earth in the full 3D satellite imagery with the terrain so we can actually see what’s at stake.

Now, I didn’t know, maybe it wasn’t anything to worry about. Maybe it was no big deal. But then when I did remap, and there it is above there, right, in the red? It was like, oh my God. It’s six miles long, it’s 1,000 acres, the logging’s going to go right up to the preschool, the daycare center, the churches. The helicopters are going to be carrying logs over the elementary school in perpetuity. The land was so steep, it’s a drinking watershed for 100,000 people in Silicon Valley, it’s where we get our water. It’s very well known that logging in steep slopes in watersheds causes sedimentation that harms water. And so many government-managed watersheds disallow logging in drinking watersheds. But this is privately owned, so they put in the proposal.

I made the visualization over the weekend. This is now September 2005, like two months after Google Earth had come out. We had this packed schoolroom — everyone was wondering, should we be worried or not? People were literally outside looking in the windows, it was so packed.

I said, “Look, there’s this new thing, Google Earth. I put the data, the plan in Google Earth. So I’ll show you…” and the visual starts in outer space and flies in. Now it’s almost a cliché, but then it had never been done before. So it flies in, I turn on the plan, and everyone is shocked, right? There’s this gasp in the room. Oh, my God, that’s what they’re going to do? Yeah, that’s what they’re going to do.

So then we spent 20 minutes. People are like, “Go here, go there, let me see my house, oh my God.” People got so much more of a perspective. Some of them said later, that motivated us to get organized, because now we really understood what was proposed. Seeing was believing. And that became a theme of Google Earth Outreach, which is really showing people what’s at stake in a way they can understand in a second, as opposed to giving them charts and graphs or crummy maps that they don’t understand.

Do you have any unique hobbies or ways that you spend your downtime that many people don’t do?

My unusual hobby is making trails, building trails in the mountains in my community. We now have a 1-mile loop, a 3-mile loop, a 5-mile loop, they’re all communally created.

First I look in Google Earth so that I can get the lay of the land digitally before we go out. I understand where it’s steep, there’s a creek and a waterfall by us. Then I go out and wander. There’s an aesthetic about making a trail. You don’t want to make it too steep, you want nice landmarks along the way. Like, within a mile, let’s get to the waterfall, and then let’s have the good-view spot.

I would buy these little flags you can get from a hardware store, a tiny little metal stake with a little flag on it, and I would go and flag a route. Then I would go re-walk it and keep moving the flags around until it felt right.

When I was a mountaineer, I used to bushwhack all the time. I would never go on trails — trails were for ordinary people. So we would go cross-country. You would just use map and compass and navigate off landmarks. I learned that at National Outdoor Leadership School, which I did when I was 20.

So you learn to navigate with map, compass and not to rely on trails. So I developed a taste for going cross-country. And even to this day, I like to go. I like to just look at a map and study it and go, “You know, I bet that would be an interesting place to go, even though Yosemite didn’t make an official trail there.” And there are some beautiful places in the backcountry, by the way, where trails don’t take you.

So I keep walking until I have it just the way I want it, and then I get help. The guys who actually take the pickaxe and carve the trail. I have help for that part.

There’s an aesthetic for a trail. There are trail-building books that say, like, you don’t want to have more than a 10 percent incline on a trail, because if it’s more than 10 percent, you’ll get erosion in a heavy rain, for example. And the way that it tilts when you’re on a slope is important, because if you do it wrong, the trail washes out. When you make a switchback, it’s good to make a switchback around something like a boulder or a tree. There’s actually an art and a science to making a trail that’s fun.

For people who love hiking but aren’t used to off-trail or backcountry, what’s a good first step?

I think it’s good to go with someone who’s done it, because I would hate to be responsible for somebody getting lost, and we never hear from them again. And that’s quite possible.

I’ve gotten lost many times. And I’ve learned a lot from that. But I had compass, map, I had the skills to get myself found again.

Actually, with GPS now, if people take a GPS device, it’s almost cheating now, because it’s hard to get lost now with the GPS. But I will say, for people in California, the Sierras have a lot of beautiful areas that even guide books will tell you this is a little bit of an off-trail thing, but it’s not hard. There will be a trail that takes you into an area of lakes, and then there’s a side unofficial little canyon to go up to it, whatever. That’s a nice way to start.

We often ask people about the families they’ve formed. Do you have children?

No, I don’t. I have two dogs. And nieces and nephews. But no kids.

Was that a conscious decision?

Yeah. Some people can do everything. I don’t think I’m one of those people. I felt from my very early consciousness that I was here to do something. It took me a while to figure it out. It took me until that dark night of the soul, after my father and brother died, that I finally was determined to figure it out. And I did. This is why I’m here. This is why I was put on earth, to do this work. And I feel so fortunate to have done that. I just felt like I couldn’t do that and have kids. Other people may be able to. More power to them.

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Rebecca Moore and Brazilian Surui tribe Chief Almir smile during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro (June 16, 2012).

What are some books that had a significant impact on you and your intellectual development?

I don’t know if this totally answers your question, but when I was a kid, I loved The Phantom Tollbooth. That was the first book that I remember really saying, this book is for me. This book speaks to me. I used to read voraciously when I was a kid. But that book — Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, you know, the abstractions of numbers and words, and it was so creative. Anyway, it was fantastic.

This is very wonky, but there were also books like—I won’t go into the wonkiest book—but there was a really cool book called On Growth and Form by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. It’s about math and nature, and how you could find math everywhere if you know what to look for. So the Fibonacci series shows up in the way leaves grow along the stem of a plant, or the equiangular spiral shows up in the nautilus shell. There’s math in the way an abalone shell adds on a new layer every year. There are beautiful mathematics in nature. This book was just a classic treatise on that. I loved that because I love math and I love nature. And someone who put the two together was very beautiful to me.

That book is probably an acquired taste. Then I guess I would just mention my friend Victoria Sweet’s book, God’s Hotel, which is about the last Almshouse in America. She’s a physician, practiced for 20 years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.

What was moving for me is, I was like her first reader. As she wrote each chapter, she would give it to me, and I would critique it. I kind of watched this book turn into a book.

That was fascinating, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful book, God’s Hotel. I highly recommend.

You said you weren’t going to mention the wonkiest book you loved — what was it?

Gödel, Escher, Bach. I read that book like four times. I just loved the weaving together of music and art and math and computer science. If you squint your eyes, it’s all the same thing. If you look in a certain way, you can see them all as different expressions of the some same underlying… I can’t explain it.

I really love abstraction. I love people who see things very deeply and see beyond what other people see, and they make surprising connections. Again, like nature and math, I just love that. It’s very stimulating for me.

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You were a voracious reader as a youngster. So many parents want to instill that love in their children. Do you recall what led you down that path? 

Everyone in my family was a reader. We were very funny—like if you look at us after Thanksgiving dinner, someone’s pulled out an encyclopedia, someone’s pulled out a dictionary, someone’s got three crossword puzzles, and we’re all just challenging each other. That was our life. We ordered two copies of The New York Times so that we wouldn’t fight over it.

I think there was a love of knowledge, a love of good writing. My mother and my father, they both exposed us to a lot of things. I don’t claim any of this is profound, but we all had piano lessons. 

The best thing for me was we spent every summer in the Adirondacks. My grandfather bought a house on a lake that my family still has. Now it’s come to my generation, so my cousins and siblings and I all own it. We’re going to try to keep passing it down through the family. It’s going to get more and more complicated. It’s a huge house on 50 acres. I took my entire team there last summer. It’s called Indian Lake in the Adirondacks.

When my friends would go to camp, I would go to Grandpa’s house in Indian Lake. Our days were completely unstructured, we’d spend the whole summer, we’d just wander in the woods and were identifying mushrooms and flowers, and swimming. I hope more kids have that, because I feel like my greatest source of serenity is nature. You can’t beat nature.

Is there a travel journey that you’ve taken that you would recommend to others?

I really love Alaska. I climbed Denali. In 1990 I led a team to the top of Denali. And that took a month. It was 28 days up, two days down. We did our own route. We did an unusual route. But along the way, it’s caribou and wolves and grizzly bears and Dall sheep and moose. Anybody can go to Denali National Park. Just incredible wildlife. And also just the people that we met. You can still homestead up there. It’s crazy, right?

So I’ve gone back two or three times. In September the tundra’s changing color, and you can get Northern Lights. I’ve seen grizzly cubs learning to catch salmon for the first time. That was very instructional for me, because the mother takes care of the cubs for two seasons, and then they’re on their own, because she’s going to have the next litter, or whatever they call it. They have to learn how to take care of themselves, or they’re going to die.

This was the second season for these two cub siblings with their mom. And I was with this guide, and they were a little worried, because this one little cub—and this is like a metaphor for me—would see a salmon—and they’re shiny and glittery—and would like grab it and would be just about to bite it, but then would see another one, and would drop this one and grab another one, right? It was literally that grabbing for the shiny things. They said, she needs to eat more.

Anyway, it’s just wild and beautiful and very different from the lower 48. I’ve gone to a lot of other places in the world, but I don’t know, there’s something about Alaska.

Obama Mount McKinley

Denali, in Denali National Park.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Denali, in Denali National Park.

Is there an emotional arc to climbing a mountain that would surprise people?

It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. There’s nothing like it. I climb in the Himalayas also. We were the first women to climb this 22,000-foot peak in the Himalayas. For Denali, we trained for a year. Many people don’t succeed. Four people died on it the year that we did it.

But I think it forged my character. Mountaineering forged my character. I learned so much about myself, and how I deal with fear, and setting goals and overcoming obstacles and working as a team. When we climbed Denali, for a month, I was roped to three other people. We were never more than 20 feet away from each other for a month. Right? So if someone has an annoying habit, it really gets annoying.

There’s just tremendous, tremendous physical satisfaction. I think mountaintops are some of the most spiritual places on the planet. Many mountains are actually sacred to local people. There’s a mountain Machapuchare in the Himalayas that hopefully no one has ever stood on top of, because it’s so sacred that locals have asked mountaineers to stop just short of the summit so they don’t desecrate the summit, because this is the abode of the gods. And you feel that.

It’s also given me a perspective, because on my expedition in the Himalayas, someone died. When I was in the Denali, four people died. So when I’m here at Google, and people are stressing about something: “Oh, my God, they’re reorganizing,” or whatever—I’m like, “Look, nobody’s going to die. We’re not falling into crevasses here. Let’s have some perspective.”

I also learned a lot of leadership skills there. I don’t think I was a natural leader. I was very introverted as a kid, painfully shy. I was painfully shy. And my team here at Google can’t believe that today, because I’m public-speaking.

The only way I got over that hurdle of being able to speak in public was when I stopped focusing on myself and worrying about my nose is going to be running, and I’m going to have a heart attack and die on the stage. When I said: No, don’t think about yourself. Think about the work. Think about the message. Do you want people to know that message? Well, yes, I do. That’s your job, to deliver that. It’s not about you. It’s about that.

I still have to remind myself of that when I get nervous, that it’s not about me, it’s about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. That helps me be less nervous.

So I learned. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned—for example, there was a Canadian mountaineering guide who wrote a book that influenced me. Conrad Kain, he guided people for decades in the Canadian Rockies. He had these rules for the leader, if you are leading a team in the mountains. You’re the leader, you’re the guide. These people are entrusting their lives in your care.

First rule: Show no fear. No matter what happens. And I still do that today. As a leader, your job is to be brave in the face of whatever it is, to have confidence that you will overcome that.

The second rule: Always pay most attention to the weakest member of the party. Right? You’re on a rope together. If there’s one person who’s tired or sick or whatever’s going on, they could be why you all get killed. I still pay attention to that. The whole forward movement of the project of whatever you’re doing doesn’t just depend upon the strongest contributors. It also depends upon making sure the weakest are not left behind. You help develop them or bring them along or whatever.

And the third rule… I don’t remember. [laughter] Sorry.

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But this reminds me, one more thing. After my brother Frank Moore died, I was his executor. I’m going through his desk and I found this quote (sometimes attributed to Goethe): “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.” And it goes on: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

When I saw that—and that was like his top thing in his drawer—I was like, okay. That was that period in my life where I was kind of equivocating. What am I going to do and how am I going to make a difference?

And what I take from this is: just commit, even if you’re not sure. And even when you climb a mountain, sometimes you don’t actually see the summit from where you are, but you know if you head in a positive direction, eventually you will see the summit.

 I found that I used to be a perfectionist. I used to think there was only one right answer to things, and I just needed to figure it out. Like, what grad school am I supposed to go to? I got into different grad schools. Which one is the right one? I would be just paralyzed with what’s the right answer. 

Or then I went to Stanford, I’m like, Who do I want to be my advisor? I was a mess—“this guy would be good for this, and that guy would be better for…”—I can’t decide, I can’t decide, I can’t decide. I always thought there was one right answer.

Then a friend said to me, “Throw the I Ching.” Do you know the I Ching? It’s the Chinese Book of Changes. There are 64 hexagrams. Each one has a sort of message. You want to do something that generates a number between one and 64. So you can throw six coins, two to the sixth equals 64, or people do something with sticks or whatever.

Anyway, you do something that gives you a number between one and 64. So she said, “You ask a question, and then you throw the I Ching and see what you get.” This is kind of woo-woo, right? But I did it. I was like, “Should I have this professor or that professor be my advisor? Tell me the answer.” I threw the I Ching, and the answer was, “Everything furthers.”

That message has been something that I hold. Whenever I think, Should I do this or do that? I’m reminded: That’s a false choice. There’s not just one right answer. Either of those professors would have been great to work with. I would learn different things. But either of them would be great.

And so suddenly I just relaxed, and I made the decision, and I went forward. That’s something I do believe, I hold to be true. It’s not useful to be paralyzed by indecision. Sometimes the best thing is just make a choice, commit, go forward and be attentive and mindful to what’s happening along the way, and be prepared to make mid-course corrections. Don’t get hung up on having to figure out the right answer before making a move.

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Do you keep a journal or do anything else to maintain your memories?

I used to. I don’t right now. I have found there have been times where I was dreaming a lot. I think it’s important when you’re dreaming to try to write down your dreams. Because when I’ve had times of crisis, where I was in between and I was struggling, I think your subconscious has a lot of guidance for you and it comes out in your dreams. You have to write them down immediately when you wake up, because otherwise you forget them. You write it down and look at it, and then suddenly you get insights from it. 

Let me ask about mapping technology. What are some of the new frontiers in your line of work?

When I first started here, it was all about using Google Earth and Google Maps to give people a perspective on a place. We work with more than 6,000 nonprofits now that are using Google Earth to take everyone on the world on a virtual guided tour to a place on the planet that may be under threat.

So, you hear about deforestation in the Amazon, or there’s genocide in Darfur and they’re burning villages, or icecaps are melting, or they’re doing mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia. You hear this stuff, and it seems very abstract. Often this is happening in remote places where people are not on the ground. 

But these organizations now—and we’re helping them—are using Google Earth as a new kind of storytelling tool, where you can take people there virtually and show them the issues and also show them alternative future scenarios.

So Appalachian Voices said, “Okay, we could blow up these five mountains that have permits on them right now, and then they’ll look like that.” They could also show already horrendously dynamited mountains, which never grow back, by the way. “Or we could put windmills on them that would look like this.” They got commercially available windmills—and they modeled them in 3D and put them in—and it would look like this. Within two years, they would have produced enough power that compensated for what they would have gotten from one time blowing up the mountains, and from then on, it’s additional energy.

I think of that as the first era of our digital mapping work. The next phase that’s going on right now is: It’s not enough just to see it. You need to be able to analyze and measure and map and monitor what’s happening in these places. There’s enormous amounts of information—for example, satellite imagery and weather data and so on—that’s collected every day. If you have the right computing power and analytical methods, you can actually determine and measure what’s happening, like measure deforestation. 

You can predict a likelihood of future malaria outbreaks six of eight weeks in advance by looking at the rainfall here, the temperature here, the distance from population centers, the distance from rivers. How is the landscape greening up? You can predict mosquito hatches, and you can then say, “Okay, we should target interventions for this place at that time,” whether it’s bed nets or inoculation or whatever.

We’re entering that era now, and this is the second hat that I wear. The first hat is Google Earth Outreach. The second one is Google Earth Engine, where we’ve built this amazing technology, this environmental analysis engine for the planet. While we’re sitting here, it’s getting feeds of satellite imagery and the weather data and so on. We’ve got more than 4,000 scientists now that are putting their models in to detect deforestation or risk of emerging infectious disease or mapping water resources or estimating crop yield, predicting drought.

It’s big data. That’s why it hasn’t happened before. Because to really manage all these feeds of satellite data and then do science on it, do an analysis, it’s petabytes of data, which is so much that people don’t even know what that word is.

But we have a lot of computers at Google that are running YouTube and Search and everything else. Well, now they’re running Google Earth Engine, and they’re doing this near real-time environmental analysis so we can really understand what’s happening on the planet.

One example is we worked with Professor Matt Hansen at the University of Maryland to create the first detailed map of global forest and deforestation from 2000 to 2012. We published that in Science. There’d never been a detailed map before. And it ended up we analyzed almost 700,000 satellite images. We ran it on 10,000 computers in parallel. We had that map result in a couple of days, whereas on a single computer, it would have taken more than 15 years.

RMoore 15

Now it’s being applied to all these other things. The dream is that we’re building a living, breathing dashboard of the planet. There are a lot of decisions that are being made about how we extract natural resources—whether it’s logging or mining or water, where we put dams—there are a lot of these decisions that are not being made with the right information. And they’re not being made transparently. 

The hope here is that we can take in this massive amount of data, and working with these leading scientists, we can distill that into knowledge, into information, into insights that will guide living on the planet more intelligently.

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RMoore 16Sophia is a project to collect life lessons from fascinating people. Sign up to receive lessons for living directly via Facebook or our email newsletter, or share your own wisdom.


It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

beginagain_rylee.550x389Many years ago Barbra Streisand put out an album called “What about Today?” I’ve listened to it for years because the title question has haunted me since I first heard it. This piece I found on Donna Henes’ beliefnet blog affirms us all.


Begin Again – Today is the Day

posted by Donna Henes

I see “Begin Again” as an ideal theme for this season. We have the supreme opportunity now in the autumn of our midlife to begin again. How shall we reinvent our Selves? What new programs, projects and passions are on the horizon for us? Please send me your stories of change, transition, and transformation. Our shared experiences serve to inspire and empower us all.

Thanks. Xx Queen Mama Donna

This was posted around the Autumnal Equinox … I think it’s equally apropos for our approach to Thanksgiving, and the Season of Light. SFC


Observations from the Queendom:

by Dani Sutliff

“The world will not fall apart if we step into our grace and express our vastness. It is more likely the world will stop falling apart when we do.”
Geneen Roth

What if I told you today was the day?

The day to step into your grace and express your vastness? The day to make a commitment to live YOU in all your bodalicious uniqueness.

Starting now.

The day to quit hiding and/or pretending you are anything less than the magnificent creature you are; to sit at your own knee and hang on your every word; to be totally and fully intrigued by your mystery and enthralled with your wisdom; to delight in your deliciousness, and to marvel at how well life looks on you; the day to giggle with coquettish glee at all that makes you divinely, curvaceously, abundantly, woman; the day to laugh loudly at your own jokes; to quote yourself and to be inspired by the vast and unlimited potential of your inherent creativity and passion.

What if I told you today was the day?


The day to follow where your heart leads, to say yes to yourself, to grab the brass ring with both hands and hold on tight; to give away a little less and hold on to a little more; to do what you want to do and not do what you don’t want to do.

The day to park yourself smack dab in the middle of YOU and savor every single second of every single bit of you.

What if I told you today was that day and that no one else can tell of your fire, paint with your words, or sing with your voice like you in the middle of you?

That the world needs you to express you.

That I need you to express you.

Right now.


Would you believe me?

Would you do it?

The Dance of Abundance

danceofabundanceI saw this on Spirituality & Health, and really enjoyed how it made me think. I hope you do, too.


50 Quotes on Abundance

by Bess O’Connor

Abundance is a very popular word right now. Sometimes it almost seems as though the word “abundance” is a socially acceptable way of saying “lots of money!” Although an increase in material wealth may be a goal for many, the true meaning of abundance goes beyond  just simply having or acquiring more money. It’s more all-encompassing and bigger than that. Abundance is a feeling. It’s something that is already there that just needs to be tapped into. Abundance is gratitude and seeing the richness in every moment. Abundance is love. More and more, people are realizing that abundance is a choice. Take a look at some of these great quotes on abundance, to explore its true meaning and feel free to share what abundance means to you in the comments below.

  1. Abundance is about being rich, with or without money. —Suze Orman
  2. Abundance is not a number or acquisition. It is the simple recognition of enoughness. —Alan Cohen
  3. Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into. —Wayne Dyer
  4. All misfortune is but a stepping stone to fortune. —Henry David Thoreau
  5. All that is mine by Divine Right is now released and reaches me in great avalanches of abundance, under grace in miraculous ways. —Florence Scovel Shinn
  6. Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor. —Paul Hawken
  7. Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. —Lao Tzu
  8. Being broke is a temporary situation. Being poor is a state of mind. —Mike Todd
  9. Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend…when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth. —Sarah Ban Breathnach
  10. Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life. —Wayne Dyer
  11. Do what you love and the money will follow. —Marsha Sinetar
  12. Enthusiasm is the yeast that raises the dough. —Paul J. Meyer
  13. Every person is a golden link in the chain of my good. —Florence Scovel Shinn
  14. Expect your every need to be met, expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level, expect to grow spiritually. —Eileen Caddy
  15. He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much.—Elbert Hubbard
  16. I am one with the Power that created me. I am totally open and receptive to the abundant flow of prosperity that the Universe offers. All my needs and desires are met before I even ask. I am Divinely guided and protected, and I make choices that are beneficial for me. I rejoice in others’ successes, knowing there is plenty for us all. —Louise Hay
  17. I am wealth. I am abundance. I am joy. —David Cameron Gikandi
  18. If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. —Oprah Winfrey
  19. If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away. —Mark Twain
  20. If you want money, ask for advice; if you want advice, ask for money. —Peter Hero
  21. I have the greatest of all riches: that of not desiring them. —Eleonora Duse
  22. Infinite Spirit, open the way for my great abundance. I am an irresistible magnet for all that belongs to me by Divine Right. —Florence Scovel Shinn
  23. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has. —Henry Ward Beecher
  24. Money is not the root of all evil…ignorance is the root of all evil. People do cruel and foolish things for money because they feel oppressed by a sense of lack. If people knew their power to generate wealth, they would never fight or hurt each other over money. —Alan Cohen
  25. Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, the sum of blessings. —Carl Sandburg
  26. Money will come when you are doing the right thing. —Mike Phillips
  27. My good now flows to me in a steady, unbroken, ever-increasing stream of success, happiness and abundance. —Florence Scovel Shinn
  28. Talent is always conscious of its own abundance and does not object to sharing. —Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  29. The cause of poverty is not scarcity. It is fear and small thinking. —Alan Cohen
  30. The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet, almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow into their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they need to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond our wildest dreams. —Sidney Madwed
  31. The heart that gives, gathers. —Marianne Moor
  32. The highest reward for one’s toil is not what one gets for it, but what one becomes by it. —John Ruskin
  33. The journey to financial freedom starts the MINUTE you decide you were destined for prosperity, not scarcity—for abundance, not lack. Isn’t there a part of you that has always known that? Can you see yourself living a bounteous life—a life of more than enough? It only takes one minute to decide. Decide now. —Mark Victor Hansen
  34. The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but in what you give away. —Wayne Dyer
  35. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred…unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  36. The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things…it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future. —Steve Forbes
  37. There are many aspects to success; material wealth is only one component. …But success also includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well—being, and peace of mind.” —Deepak Chopra
  38. The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little. —Franklin D. Roosevelt
  39. The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf. —Shakti Gawain
  40. The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car…a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. —Ben Sweetland
  41. They expect little and as a result they get little. —Ben Sweetland
  42. When people ask us how long does it take for something to manifest, we say, It takes as long as it takes you to release the resistance. Could be 30 years, could be 40 years, could be 50 years, could be a week. Could be tomorrow afternoon. —Abraham-Hicks
  43. When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears. —Anthony Robbins
  44. When you undervalue who you are, the world will undervalue what you do and vice versa. —Suze Orman
  45. Why are you so enchanted by this world, when a mine of gold lies within you? —Rumi
  46. You are, at this moment, standing right in the middle of your own ‘acres of diamonds.’ —Earl Nightingale
  47. You do not need to be affected by the economy or man-made conditions. You can create your own personal economic environment of prosperity. If you are willing to listen to and take action on your inner guidance, you will do well no matter what the economy around you is doing. —Sanaya Roman
  48. You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance. —Khalil Gibran
  49. Your fortune is not something to find but to unfold.—Eric Butterworth
  50. Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving. —W. Clement Stone