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

Monday, March 12th, 2012

THE IDEA FACTORY is an incredible read, it is a powerful read; I was so excited by the title when asked would I review the book on my blog.   I thought the IDEA FACTORY was about opening up the reader’s creative ideas and creating opportunities, rather it is a work of History.

The book does excite the creative juices and get one to do some poignant thinking; it was wonderful to fire up those skills and enjoy such a well written book.  Gertner  has  a command of words that was refreshing.   The book is about the period of history 1940s to 1970s when Bell Laboratories, Western Electric, and AT&T had a benevolent monopoly on communications in the USA, particularly as they related to the development of superior telephone service.  The innovations which came out of this monopoly are still being visited today and are creating massive amounts of new technology at an even faster pace.  The innovations that were established by the Bell Labs are the foundation of our technological world today.

Bell Laboratories wanted communications services, “the best, the fastest and the most economical” in the world.   So they went about finding bright young minds who loved the sciences and mathematics and engineering, and inventing and were CURIOUS.   Most were from rural settings and were encouraged by a teacher to find grant money and get themselves to a good school.  Then the Bell Labs set about discovering the “best among the best”, usually referred by their faculty and hiring them to create and invent and produce the equipment they needed to keep communications growing, being more successful and meeting needs.  They paid each young man $1 as they entered the work force for any patents they might develop and gave them a lab – Doors must remain open so other disciplines can wander in and get involved – they were given a problem to solve or several problems to solve.

How to get long distance services across the whole country – from coast to coast.

How to develop a cable that would survive under the ocean?

How to use a single cable to carry 1,000s of calls – clearly

These young men found each other and metallurgists, and chemists, and mechanics to start discussion groups and to problem-solve.   They wandered around and wrote on blackboards in the various labs.  They challenged each other and teased each other until a solution immerged.   The list of what they produced is amazing and the stories of how they came up with these solutions fascinating:

  • Switches
  • Cables
  • Masers to lasers
  • Water proofing
  • Transistors
  • Secret Codes for the WWII
  • Calculators
  • Computers
  • Radar
  • Microwave Antennas
  • UNIX
  • Atomic Bomb
  • CCE = Digital Photography
  • 13 Nobel Prize Winners!

Although institutions such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others have great minds working together, they are similar but not as innovative or inspiring with the new, they are creating within a niche. “….the NET is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” Nicholas Carr.

The downfall of this experiment was when they had to give up their monopoly and break apart the different sections so that they were not all working together without need for grants.  With the monopoly the BELL LABS did not have to learn how to find funds or market.  The biggest problem was that the USA downgraded education as a priority particularly math and sciences; modern society wants rules, answers, and control and thus curiosity is not encouraged.

“I just don’t think they make people like the kind of people we had; not that nature doesn’t make them just that the environment doesn’t make them.”   Dr. Lucky

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to be amazed by history and to jumpstart their curiosity.   I also enjoyed this book because it made me feel closer to my Father who was one of those brilliant, curious, intelligent young men of those times, who came from a similar background and created an education system that outshined anything else that was in existence and it came to the attention of the Kennedy family.  When President Kennedy was shot it burst the trajectory my Father was on and other people just did not have the foresight to comprehend his work, though many prestigious universities called him to teach and promoted his concepts.

I was also fascinated with the chapter about the Seattle and New York World’s Fairs as I attended both and went to the Bell Lab’s displays and house of the future.

So has anything surprised you recently and been different from your expectations?  Would you have read the book if it had turned out to not be what you expected?   Were you pleased with the outcome?

Penguin Press  and TLC book tours sent me a copy of this book and I promised them a review.

tlclogoIf you order anything from Amazon or Powell’s    I will receive a few beans in my bucket. (Kindle)

Related Reading:
Shiny Objects
The Swan Thieves
The Social Animal
The Procrastination Equation

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert ~By John M. Gottman, Ph.D. And Nan Silver

Monday, February 13th, 2012

This book was a gift from one of my daughters for Christmas 2011.  It had been recommended to her by a counselor and she had found it a valuable resource.  It was so important to her she wanted her sisters and her parents to benefit from the wisdom found within.  I made note that this book had been on my must read LIST for nearly 9 years.

I am not unfamiliar with Dr. Gottman’s incredible work on marriage, relationships and love as he and his wife have been ardent researchers at the University of Washington for many, many years and I have been graced with having taken several credit update courses from his team.   When I was teaching Marriage Preparation classes at the University where I was campus minister, we used his work extensively for our retreats we had tremendous success.

I also had tremendous resistance to reading this book.  As much as I knew that the information was valuable, I also understood that I would been exposed to my many points of failure within my own 34 years of marriage and I had to deal with the fact that I found it easier to live in a parallel relationship and had found it too difficult to build a team of my own.   I went ahead and read the book and I got angry with myself and with my partner who I am fairly certain will never read this book or do the exercises.

I do believe that this book is a powerful resource for young couples and for couples who wish to refresh their relationship.  All those folks who are now empty nesters have an opportunity to build their relationships also.   I think one just needs to have the desire, do the exercises, practice and the deeper connections will begin to change and take hold.   Just the simple act of changing a few words at the beginning of a confrontation or conflict can and may produce tremendous change and outcomes.

“Softening the start up of a discussion is crucial to resolving conflicts, because, my research finds, discussions invariably end on the same note they began.”

Dr. Gottman is able to predict within a 91% success rate, which couples will stay together and which couples will not stand a chance.  Usually it just takes him the answer to one question.

“Another important lesson I have learned is that in all arguments, both solvable and perpetual, no one is ever right.  There is no absolute reality in marital conflicts, only two subjective realities.”

I so enjoy listening to the CAR TALK fellows on NPR try and help so many couples work through their car questions – always the expectation of an absolute answer.

The book is very hands on and hopeful.  Concepts are explained clearly and simply and the examples are relevant.  Although being able to communicate well can be either a boon or a determent to a couple, this is not actually a book about communications skills.  It is about relationship skills and how to create and highlight your own skills, tweak, and eliminate those that are not serving you well.

I do like to take surveys and true and false tests and was just amazed at how clearly the little quizzes brought me to a truer definition of my style.  When I first meet a person I am more likely to use my counselor greeting to start the connection.  My family on the other hand does not like it when I approach them in the manner so I use a more questioning approach to getting the ball rolling.  This approach is similar to an “early warning” system and I find that they disappear or change the subject very quickly – actually they will do just about anything not to deal with conflict or problems and their greatest “weapon” is to ignore.

By participating in the quizzes, I can see my style clearly and I can practice some of their techniques and ideas and explore new ways of handling the conversation.  I have been working some new approaches on my partner for helping us to downsize and to look at our financial situation; planning for retirement.  By attending several classes about Retirement planning and Medicare, I have been able to get my partner to start the conversations and stay engaged in the process and even do some of the research!

“The basis for coping effectively with either kind of problem (perpetual or solvable) is the same; communicating basic acceptance of your partner’s personality.  Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that person understands you.”  “If either (or both) of you feels judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, you will not be able to manage the problems in your marriage.”

The happiest and longest married couples from the studies, and now they have 40 + years worth of data, are those that like everything about their partners. They often joke about the foibles and are the first to tell tales on themselves of mistakes they made – usually with a twinkle in their eye and delight in the telling.  They have little tricks for overcoming the tough things and they are able to step into the conversation, modify intensity, and play with options.  Here’s an example:

My partner just runs about 15 to20 minutes late for everything,  I decided it was part of his biorhythm system and after a few years of frustration I just figured out to tell him the plane, train or event started a half hour earlier than it did.  Now we both know that I am doing this, but we never speak of it and we are not always late or missing the plane or making folks upset with us.  This removes the intensity of the frustration, cuts the analysis and discussion and gets us to events without ruining the party.

I think I will just keep this gem of a workbook on my shelf for a long time to come.  I believe it will become dog-eared and ratty over time, because I believe I am capable of changing to make my marriage experience even better over the next third of my life.  I think we are still capable of deepening our relationship and becoming even better friends.

How about you?  Are you thinking about being in a relationship?  Are you thinking about deepening your relationship?  Are you considering getting out of a relationship that is just not working for you?

(For those of you who prefer Powells’ Connection to the Amazon link above :)

Related Reading:
The Wisdom To Know the Difference
The Element
We Have Met The Enemy
After 34 Years My Husband is Leaving Me

I invite you to WiseEars  to explore the possibilities of listening and being heard and to ask you to sign up for my newsletter.

If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s from this site, I will receive a few beans in my bucket.

No one paid me or offered me any product to review this book.  It is part of my own collection.

Under the share button are all those wonderful social media sites –Let’s get the word out!  Thank you.

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Sweet Blog Award

Deborah Baker at Living Between the Lines   just passed on a sweet treat and what a delicious way to start out the New Year and the Valentine Month of February.  I am the recipient of the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. Lucky me!

At first I was not quite sure about this honor, because I have been busy returning to my NO SUGAR campaign, which I vacationed from during the past holiday season.  Then I thought, no indeed, this is a good way to receive a sweet morsel, which only serves to remind me that connections with others is one of the sweetest treats one may receive.  I just wish to say the stickiest of thank yous to Deborah for her thoughtful gift.

Now I am to indulge myself in the pure delight of talking about myself….here are 7 individually wrapped nuggets about me you may not have known.

#1  I am allergic to chocolate, dairy products, and caffeine.  Remembering that chocolate contains caffeine, if I mix the various allergens together, I get a migraine headache which lasts for about 8 hours.

My health is an extremely important factor in my life because I was born with cancer and because my Father made me promise I would learn as much as I could about environmental cancers.  If you spend much time with me, you will realize that I will talk about health issues #1 and I feel healthier and healthier as I debrief all the information that comes to me from other sources.

#2  I have watched the movie Julie and Julia 62 times.  Why you ask?  Because Meryl Streep is brilliant in it, Julia Child’s cooking show was the only program I was allowed to watch when I was healing from surgery or came home from school sick, and because it is about a blogger who succeeds in her hoped for arena of success.  It inspires me.

#3  I was blessed with incredibly beautiful skin, and when other’s teased me about how clearly you could see veins through it, I knew immediately they were envious.  I take very good care of my skin and never take it for granted and I am grateful for its power to hold me together.   I rarely cover up the red patch on my forehead, because I believe to be a beacon of wisdom and a direct receptor to my heart.

#4  I used to think my greatest gift was my beautiful singing voice, but have learned that my greatest gift is listening and music is how I practice and improve that art form.

#5  Surveys – I enjoy taking them very much.  I find them a powerful teaching tool, but I need to be able to voice my thoughts and not just answer yes, no and undecided.  I no longer participate in surveys that do not allow me a place to comment.

#6  I totally dislike the smell of coffee.

#7 Working on a new dream.  I have been taking lots of time to be healthy and wealthy enough to enjoy the last third of my life.   I am very happy to say that I feel as though I have truly lived each and every day on purpose, with a few highs and lows to make it extremely interesting.  Now as I am reaching out to touch the “peak of creativity” (around age 65 for women), I am developing a new dream and exploring possibilities.   I can smell the sweet enticing smells of something awesome which is coming my way, and I will say it is irresistibly yummy!

I want to say thank you to Deborah for including me in this award.  It was chewy and nutty and fun.

I also want to say thank you again to Eliza of Silver and Grace   for including me in her free e book, Women Who Make a Difference   and highlighting me on her blog December 2011.

Here are my nominees for this sweet treat, hope they will enjoy this award too:

The Shyness Project
Arriving At Your Own Door
The Rose Bandit 
The Secret Goddess 
Today’s Path
A Sharing Connection
Holessence Speaking From the Heart

For those I have nominated, the rules, as I understand them are:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the Award on to some of your own deserving blog friends.
4. Contact those friends and let them know.

Hope this is not too sweet for you?  What do you find irresistible?

If you purchase anything from this site from Amazon or Powell’s I will receive a few beans in my bucket.

For the month of February Wise Ears  is offering a mini Journal writing and listening seminar to every 5th person who subscribes.   Who’s hearing you?


Monday, July 11th, 2011
The Rockies

The Rockies

When my oldest daughter was in High School she received a Rotary scholarship to Denmark for a year.  She had sought out the experience as she wanted to be free from parents and our particular school and when she found out it was Denmark, she worried about learning such a difficult language.

The Rotarians said, “You are the one we think can handle such a tough language and learn it.”

Off she went and had a wonderful amazing year; minus the correct accent they could all understand her by the Winter Holidays.  She has been back several times for visits and the wedding of her best friend, and the arrival of children.

Not allowed to work during the ambassadors’ experience, her family was to send her an allowance each month, and we sent holiday gifts to her host families for her too.  We thought $100 a month would be what we could afford and Library Girl and I cleaned a small office building each week to send her that amount of money.   At the end of the experience, we found out that other students were receiving between $500 and $1000 a month allowances from home.  We did not know how she survived as Denmark was one of the most expensive countries.

One family in particular had taken our daughter into their lives and made sure she had some childcare opportunities and funds to go to the swimming pool, theatre, and other events; they included her in their family experience.

This family came to visit us and RV through Canada to see the wilderness, bears, and Mounties.  This visit gave us the opportunity to return the favor.  Best friend, her husband, 6 year old daughter, 3 ½ year old son and the wonderful parents/ grandparents arrived here nearly a month ago.  We went on a lovely sailboat ride to show off Puget Sound and gathered up all our camping gear to share, and then rented an SUV to get them to the spot to pick up their RV for 17 days in Canada.

Canada Day

Canada Day

Right away it felt like one’s favorite Aunt and Uncle had arrived with cousins and grandies!  Warm, gracious and happy to be off on an adventure and so ready to enjoy life and discover what their new surroundings had to offer.   We only anticipated that language would be a problem and by the time we sat down to our first meal together we were communicating first hand.

By the way, I served the Chicken Pot Pie Recipe from the Harvest Potluck e-cookbook http://patriciaswisdom.com/2009/11/harvest-potluck-unicef-fundraiser/, free from this site. Once again it was a prize winning supper and the fresh CSA (community supported agriculture) salad added to make it a feast.  Washington strawberries were at their peak and we added Danish Havarti Cheese and Rainier cherries and we were all laughing and having a good time.

It Girl joined her host family for her 2 weeks of vacation and celebrated her birthday in Canada too.  Kamloops, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper were all visited and their amazing photographs rekindled memories from my childhood. Travelling now with cell phones and wireless computers, they found even more adventures and new GPS routes to embark upon.  The children still enjoyed climbing on rocks, hiking, seeing all the wildlife and told the stories of seeing  the bears along the way.

Tak (thank you),  Selv tak (You are welcome), far (father),  mor ( mother),  bedstefader (Grandfather) and bedstemoder (Grandmother) – we all added to the conversation at the table and we all could understand what ZIP wanted right away!

The children and I decorated an ice cream birthday cake for my husband to help him celebrate his big day.   I think having children to play cars and draw with kept him from being a Gloomy Gus (The Danes work a 35 hour work week and get more vacations and can retire at age 62 and have health care!  And this was a bit overwhelming to a fellow who has to work until age 72 to break even and has had to save up vacation days for years to go on a 5 week bike tour at age 64)!

Everyone off to the airport to return home to regularly scheduled lives and Zip keeps checking all the bedrooms to see if they might be lingering there still.  10 people in the house and it felt full of life and energy.   New friends and children’s hugs created priceless memories.

Have you rekindled some old acquaintances this summer or made some new friends in this season?

Wild Rose

Wild Rose

If you enjoy what you read here you might wish to support this blog with a donation?  Anything that you order from the Amazon link from this site puts a few beans in my bucket.

Related Reading:
Harvest Potluck Cookbook
A Birthday Ritual
Cascade-Siskiyou Bike Tour
Seattle to Portland Bike Ride 2009