Jacob Mclaws's Reviews > The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history, leadership-and-ideas

2nd read 10.8.2016-10.13.2016
Rereading this book was just slightly less entertaining than the first time through. I loved hearing the stories of collaboration, outright copying, business machinations and cool combinations of art and technology. I really like the whole Shockley, Noyce, transistor, microchip era. And then the section on the early homebrew groups contending ideologically with Gates and Jobs is good too.

Isaacson's overt theses are that collaboration, not isolated geniuses account for progress and innovation. Secondly, he makes a case for why artificial intelligence/computing combined with human intelligence is much more powerful than just computers.


1st read : 10.16.2014-10.26.2014

What a pleasure. An absolute pleasure of a read.

This book is all about the history of computing and the people behind it all. There was a time when kids grew up taking apart and putting together HAM radios and getting chemistry sets with cubes of germanium inside. This book made me a bit jealous of that basic understanding of technology and I have to admit that after the reading the portion on diodes, semiconductors and microchips I spent an entire Saturday online learning about the basic physics and chemistry involved in that process. Then I went back and reread the sections and I felt better about my understanding of the history and the science.

Isaacson is great at bringing these hackers and geeks to life. Alan Turin, Grace Hopper, Vannevar Bush, John Mauchly, Ev Williams. A lot of new heroes were brought to life for me reading this book. I'd recommend this to anyone who has ever felt that gnawing feeling about not quite understanding the basics about the digital world that surrounds us. For me, this was a great tour that inspired me to dig deeper into some of the science and appreciate more of the history.

Some ket takeaways:
1. One theme present in most of the breakthroughs was a form of collaboration or batting around of ideas. "Sparks come from ideas rubbing against each other rather than as bolts right out of the blue." "That is the way that good ideas often blossom: a bumblebee brings half an idea from one realm, and pollinates another fertile realm filled with half-formed innovations."
2. As Vannevar Bush points out, there is strength in the triangle of military, industrial, and academic research. The government should fund and help enhance hybrid research centers that emulate Bell Labs, RAND, Stanford Research Institute and Xerox PARC. Basic research is a necessity for continued breakthrough innovation. On top of all this the crowd (open source) is a necessary competitor with private tech. This is a healthy rivalry and moves us forward.
3. The best innovators are the ones that stand at the intersection of the arts and the sciences.
4. Electrons/protons + And/Or gates with diodes and resistors are the basic building blocs of all of our digital devices. "To this very moment, that is the way every single digital device on the planet works at its most basic level." - Steve Wozniak

"Once you've made something with wire and nails, when someone says a chip or circuit has a relay you feel confident using it because you know you could make one... Now kids get a MacBook and regard it as an appliance. They treat it like a refrigerator and expect it to be filled with good things, but they don't know how it works. They don't fully understand what I knew, and my parents knew, which was what you could do with a computer was limited only by your imagination." - Tim Berners-Lee

5. Social and collaboration is the under-riding theme of the internet and personal computer. Starting with The Well through to Medium today.
6. The internet could've been radically different if it would've been established with two way links. Look at pages 418-419.
7. The most productive teams are those that brought together teams with a wide array of expertise, both theoretical and applied.
8. Physical proximity is always best, people should have to bump into each other and rub off on each other.
9. If you want to make money, it's all about execution. Pretty good ideas are a dime a dozen and even brilliant ideas are not worth much if you can't get your team to build it right.

Things I'd like to remember:
Man, Vannevar Bush is cool. Read his As We May Think article from 1945. It's kind of like the manual for everything that happened over the next sixty years and I bet there are still dozens of his predictions still waiting to be executed on. "When I got a copy of Vannevar Bush's 'As We May Thing,' I said to myself, 'Yep, there it is! He figured it out!' Bush envisioned the Internet as fully as you could, given that you didn't have digital computers." - Marc Andreessen

The science behind a diode and a semiconductor is super tricky. I spent six hours last Saturday reading and watching Youtube videos about silicon, germanium, boron, arsenic, pnp, npn, diodes, electricity, and a triode/semiconductor. I still would like to see a big one in action and get a walk through of a real life example of how it stores a charge and how that charge can be used for Boolean logic processing, because I don't fully understand it yet.

My kids should learn about electronics by playing with radios and transistors.
My kids should get to play with (safe) chemicals.
My kids should learn to code with an Arduino (or whatever the equivalent is when they are old enough).
My kids should be around other kids that are making things (robots, programs, etc.)
Send kids to a Montessori school (both Sergey Brin and Larry Page attribute their early growth more to Montessori schooling than their parents style).
Kids should learn physics.
Kids should get exposure to the arts and should be encouraged to embrace the intersection, not one particular street.
All of the above things that my kids should learn should be things I know about and can do with them.
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Reading Progress

September 4, 2014 – Shelved
September 4, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
October 16, 2014 – Started Reading
October 16, 2014 – Shelved as: history
October 16, 2014 – Shelved as: leadership-and-ideas
October 19, 2014 –
25.0%
October 26, 2014 – Finished Reading

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Mattila Thanks for the 'Things I'd like to remember' Totally agree on the things you need your kids to do. I was saddened how almost every person was from a wealthy background and had access to some technology that was unusual or advanced for the time.


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