Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Idea Factory Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

The Idea Factory Bell Lbs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

Nearly one hundred and fifty years after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in 1947, at Bell Laboratories, the transistor was invented and humankind would never be the same. As this technological revolution unfolded innovative advances progressed at exponential speed. Now micro-miniaturization coupled with ingenious applications have become expected.
I loved the book’s delivery of this ongoing revolutionary story taking place in our lifetimes. I was born before the transistor and the days of television when radio tubes powered our communications. Today's applied innovations are miraculous!

Excerpts from The Idea Factory

“Inventions are a valuable part, but invention is not to be scheduled nor coerced.” The point of this kind of experimentation was to provide a free environment for “The operation of genius.” His point was that genius would undoubtedly improve the company’s operations just as ordinary engineering could. But genius was not predictable. You had to give it room to assert itself.

An industrial lab, he said, “is merely an organization of intelligent men, presumably of creative capacity, specially trained in a knowledge of the things and methods of science, and provided with the facilities and wherewithal to study and develop the particular industry with which they are associated.”

The design for the switching station had taken two thousand “man-years” of work to create and used tens of thousands of transistors. Its complexity dwarfed that of other previous Bell Labs undertakings such as the transatlantic undersea cable.

The “switching art,” as it was known at Bell Labs, was suitably captured by a specialized technical jargon describing relays, registers, translators, markers, and so forth and a bevy of convoluted, mind-twisting flow charts. Those who had mastered the switching art were members of a technological priesthood.

The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars by Terry Mort


The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars by Terry Mort

This is a book about American history and the dynamic driving forces that drove it: a captivating, fascinating, and engrossing look into people’s focused motivations.
I loved the descriptive prospective of historical happenings that Terry Mort brought together.

Excerpts from The Wrath of Cochise:
Large events and issues are also relevant to the story, the Mexican War, North-South politics and slavery, the impact of the Civil War, military training and strategy, the roles of mining, emigration, and transportation. In short, in the Bascom Affair we have a microcosm of, and in some ways a metaphor for, the development of the West.

Mexico agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo a week after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, California. The treaty was a formal recognition of reality, because California was already occupied by the U.S. forces. Still, Santa Anna, Mexico’s once and future president, must have reflected ruefully on the sequence of events. Gold in California started a mass migration. Many hopeful gold seekers went by ship around Cape Horn; some went by ship to Panama, by canoe across the Isthmus and down a jungle river, to a further stretch of jungle paths on mule back, and finally to another ship heading north to California. But just as many went overland; it was faster. They would take a steamboat to Fort Leavenworth. From there, some would take the most direct route, across the Rockies. But others chose the southern route where the winter weather was not a problem. They would follow the Santa Fe Trail to southern New Mexico, turn west, and go through the Chiricahua country, following the Gila River trail, essentially the same trail blazed by Kearny first and then by the Mormon Battalion. (The Mormon Battalion, however, followed a more southerly route in Arizona, because they were burdened with wagons, unlike Kearny’s dragoons. They would therefore have followed the desert floors between mountain ranges. It’s unlikely that any of them went through Apache Pass, but certainly they passed close by. Similarly, gold-seeking Argonauts traveling in wagon trains would follow the Mormon Battalion’s route.)*

Human behavior routinely exposes the fact that the less entitled to respect some people feel themselves to be, the more noisily or vigorously they demand it.

A historical oddity; The Chiricahuas under Cochise’s leadership would go on to fight a war that lasted just over a decade, essentially the same length of time it took the Greeks to destroy Troy.

*The transcontinental telegraph was not completed until October 1861.
*California was admitted as a free state in 1850, quick work by Congress primarily because of the Gold Rush and the subsequent population explosion.