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Engineer’s Bookshelf

The Innovators Who Created the Digital Revolution

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mohov0
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Re: Comment on Innovators
mohov0   6/26/2015 4:12:56 PM
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Right on.

mithrandir
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Re: Back then versus now
mithrandir   6/25/2015 11:05:53 PM
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@traneus

I agree with the aspect that we percieve the past differently from the present. I recently read through the Idea factory by Jon Gertner(a brilliant read, many thanks to antedeluvian for pointing it out) and this conversation resonated strongly with what he was concluding towards the end of the book on Bell labs.

The trend right now of public companies forces them to show quarter by quarter earnings which puts a squeeze on R&D in general. Most 'cutting edge' R&D probably looks forward by a couple of years at best. It's getting harder to invest towards longer term technology and even then it may not achieve any significant earnings. Governament labs are probably different but there seem to be fewer breakthroughs from them(although this might be a skewed perspective, I'm only basing it off the fact that I see fewer news updates which mention them). 

traneus
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Back then versus now
traneus   6/25/2015 7:39:07 AM
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I grew up in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. I started in electronics with an RCA experimenter's kit for building a battery-powered vacuum-tube radio. I built crystal radios and tube radios. I started building a color-television demodulator. I tried germanium transistors around 1960, and found them inferior to tubes, so I went back to tubes.In high school in the mid-sixties, I built an oscilloscope using silicon transistors, using a DTL flipflop to control the triggered sweep.

In my experience, the advent of the transistor (while momentous) did not enable much that could not be done with tubes. Transistors did enable smaller batteries in portable devices.

Computers, even with transistors, were too expensive for me to consider building. I was limited to using a piece of an institution's timeshared computer. I studied physics at Dartmouth College from 1971 to 1973, and made good use of the Dartmouth Timesharing System. I was isolated from new developments in electronics, as the trade publications were available only to those already in the industry.

For me, the revolution came one day in 1972, when an industrial distributor sent me an Intel 8008 microprocessor user's guide. My first real job came a year later, working at a basement startup, maintaining and upgrading an 8008-based embedded system.

Back then, the media were all about one-way broadcasting, from institutions to individuals. Now, each of us can broadcast to the world, through peer-to-peer internet.

mithrandir, remember that the past we see looking back, is not the same past that was lived through back then. We tend to organize the past by subject, studying the evolution of one subject over time. In contrast, we organize the present by date, living many subjects occurring simultaneously now. Political cartoons often juxtapose unrelated subjects. Think how difficult it will be for future students to get the jokes without the context.

Max The Magnificent
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Great Review
Max The Magnificent   6/24/2015 5:31:22 PM
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Hi Bernie -- thanks for this great review -- I've just added this book to my Amazon Wish List -- Max

mithrandir
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Re: Comment on Innovators
mithrandir   6/17/2015 11:58:17 PM
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What you say gnaws at me sometimes, as much as free markets and capitalization force people to innovate and form new ideas, it just seems so... unfair at times. But maybe thats just me being naive.

On another note growing up in the early 90's I sometimes wonder how different things are between what I saw and what was seen by the engineers of the older generation.

It feels like back then there was a lot more being done in the actual process of making new things. Now its just what new website(exceptions exist, but thats the general perception) you can launch and make pots of money. Maybe its just due to the fact that basic sciences has moved so far ahead that its getting difficult for engineers to grasp and apply to real life problems. We still see significant incremental progress but nothing on the lines of the invention of the transistor or the basics of information theory like Shannon did. 

traneus
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typo in text
traneus   6/15/2015 10:37:28 PM
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"8080-based IBM PC" should be "8088-based IBM PC". The 8088 is an 8086 with an eight-bit off-chip data bus.

hkellman945
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Comment on Innovators
hkellman945   6/15/2015 1:20:45 PM
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I have met and talked to Walter Isaacson and many of the people featured in the book. I have been lucky to have worked as an electrical engineer and member of IEEE for 50 years (Life Member). What I have learned is that history is indeed written by the winners. Most engineering pioneers unfortunately are forgotten because their companies went out of business. Who remembers Grid Systems, Fortune Systems, Cromenco, Wicat Systems, Kaypro, Convergent Technologies, Morrow Designs, or Victor Technologies in hardware? In software, Mitch Kapoor was the third spreadsheet company I saw after Visicalc and Context MBA (Gib Hoxie). Gary Kildall's Intergalactic Digital Research was first with CP/M but even if Kildall did get the IBM contract for the operating system he would have given IBM the keys to the kingdom with a fixed price contract and not hold out for a $40 per machine royalty from everyone except IBM like Bill Gates insisted on.

A key difference between the winners and losers is not first to market or invention but having the best team and business acumen and also sales and marketing to back it up. It is not either/or but all of the above.

That, and humility to know that no one has successsfully predicted the future. I learned that in my first job at the New York World's Fair in 1964. With two years of EE as a background I could only get a job making malteds in the Galaxy Restaurant between the General Motors and Ford pavilions. Bell Telephone's Picturephone seldom worked. We never got flying cars or unmetered and nearly free electricity. Disney had Audio Animatronics which were electro-mechanical gadgets, not computers. NASA said that after we flew to the moon by 1970 we would colononize Mars by 1990.

Hal Kellman

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