Tag Archives: Technology

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is highly recommended for a technology geek, history geek, history of technology geek, anyone interested in technological innovation, or just plain Ma Bell fans.

Mr. Gertner has amassed an excellent, in-depth (depth as in really deep), coverage of the phenomena that was Bell Labs. He’s captured the development, processes, inventions, personalities – the egos, the drives, the vanities and intellects, the senses of humor (Jim Fisk “was fond of putting his colleagues on mailing lists of doctors peddling dubious tonics.” !!) He writes with a literary description (“- men in crisp white shirts, sleeves rolled above their elbows, bent over rows and rows of drafting tables.”) And, something I find quite refreshing, given this has to have elements of creative non-fiction (facts are dull…narrative gives them life):

One afternoon, Mervin Kelly invited [Walter] Brattain over to his home in Short Hills to discuss the matter [Brattain’s displeasure with William Schockley]. They likely met in Kelly’s study, where he saw all his visitors – […]

My emphasis added, that is the way to write about unknown information!

So much information here, and insights into what Bell Labs was and created. Not all inventions, the processes that worked their way to the world:

[Jack A.] Morton would eventually think more deeply about the innovative process than any Bell Labs scientist, with the possible exception of Kelly, In his view, innovation was not a simple action but a “total process” of interrelated parts. “It is not just the discovery of new phenomena, nor the development of a new product or manufacturing technique, nor the creation of a new market, ” he later wrote. “Rather, the process is all these things acting together in an integrated way toward a common industrial goal.”

Holistic innovation. What a novel concept.

Gertner writes of the demise, that Bell Labs “ceased being essential to America’s technology and culture.” Sad that, for an institution that created the transistor – arguably the most significant invention ever, the integrated circuit, solar cells, lasers, and a host of other common place today innovations, an institution that reinvented itself many times, finally succumbed.

Excellent history.

View all my reviews

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the FutureNew Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to find out what Bridle had to say because I’ve been calling the rightwing draconian control backwards trends in the US the “New Dark Ages” for years now. This took a bit to work into…the read is easy, but Bridle was inconsistent, exaggerative and repetitive. Still, what he has to say is scary. Bridle opens with

‘If only technology could invent some way of getting in touch with you in an emergency,’ said my computer, repeatedly.
Following the 2016 US election result, along with several other people I know and perhaps prompted by the hive mind of social media, I started re-watching The West Wing: an exercise in hopeless nostalgia. It didn’t help, but I got into the habit, when alone, of watching an episode or two in the evenings, after work, or on planes. After reading the latest apocalyptic research papers on climate change, total surveillance, and the uncertainties of the global political situation, a little neoliberal chamber play from the noughties wasn’t the worst thing to sink into.

And we end with a message that technology is bad; no wait! it’s good; no…bad; so bad as to be really bad. And it is. But we can’t avoid it. Nor can we control it. The genie’s bottle is opened, Pandora’s box has let loose the demons, and maybe Bridle isn’t exaggerating. Continue reading

Democracy Hacked: Political Turmoil and Information Warfare in the Digital Age by Martin Moore

Democracy Hacked: How Russian Hackers, Secretive Plutocrats, and Freextremists Are Undermining Democracy and Gaming ElectionsDemocracy Hacked: Political Turmoil and Information Warfare in the Digital Age by Martin Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw a question on a forum last week asking for “scary or Halloween” book recommendations. There were plenty of responses, and this was mine – the lone non-fiction. I haven’t been scared by a fiction book since I read one of ghost stories when I was 8 years old. Stephen King made me laugh 35 years ago; Koontz – no; Rice – emphatically no; well…you get the picture. No, for me, the real scary books are of this type – what the fiction authors try to impart: powerlessness against larger, malicious forces. Note: I received an uncorrected advance review copy of this from the publisher through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Moore takes on a challenging task and did quite a bit of research – there are 35 pages of citations to sift if you’re game. He breaks the book into three parts: Hackers, Systems Failure, and Alternative Futures, each with three chapters. Americans interested in this might myopically think it pertains to a certain election, but Moore shows it is much bigger than that. This is a global problem. Continue reading