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A Good Read

Posted: July 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

I just finished listening to the Audible version of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. If you are at all interested in the history of telephony, or even much of modern technology, I highly recommend this narrative. The book doesn’t focus so much on the technical aspects, but rather on the human ones. The stories of the technologies that we take for granted today are told via the people that drove them.

Things I learned:

  • Under the heading Never Meet Your Heroes: William Shockley was a complete ass.

         It seems his ego was even too great for a building full of Nobel Prize winners.

  • It was a very good idea to know, and impress, Robert Millikan.

         Pretty much everybody who was anybody in the early communication field, in some way or            another, owes some of their success to a word or suggestion from him.

  • Along a similar vein, eating lunch with Harry Nyquist was good for your career

         The greatest common denominator between patent awardees at Bell Labs is that they had            lunch with Nyquist on occasion.

  • Claude Shannon probably devoted more time and energy to developing scientific papers about juggling than he ever did information theory.

         Where would the field of juggling uni-cyclists be now if he had actually published any of his            work?

Further Reading:


There are times when my characters will be cussing. They may be cussing a lot. I’ve been known to cuss like a drunken sailor who stubbed his ingrown toe nail after a week long bender. Words are just groups of phonemes that have been assigned meaning by us over time. Outside of Dune I don’t think the utterance of a specific sound, or group of sounds, has ever directly brought irreparable harm to anyone.

If we think about it ‘cuss‘ is just a modification of the word curse. A curse is ‘a prayer or invocation for harm or injury to come upon one’ (Merriam-Webster). The word profanity derives from profane; the act of treating something sacred with abuse. Both of these words describe an act. My thought then is that one arbitrary grouping of sounds should mean no more than any other arbitrary grouping. There should be no difference between /f/ /u/ /k/ and /f/ /u/ /ng/ /k/, after all three of the phonemes are the same. So why should we prefer the word funk to fuck? Both have their places. What we should have a problem with is intent. Remember that definition of curse?

When I, or my characters, curse we don’t intend harm to anyone (unless I’m voicing a bad guy). For me ‘bad words’ are just another tool in my descriptive language tool box. What I find offensive is that someone would wish harm or injury on another person. Somehow the phrase “fuck this fucking shit” has been seen as more taboo than telling young children that they will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity for simply uttering that phrase. Or, Cthulhu forbid, they dare to have the audacity to love someone that bothers you. If that isn’t wishing harm on someone, I don’t know what is.  Often the same people who have a problem with the word ‘fuck’ see absolutely nothing wrong ‘God hates X’. Personally I find the word ‘hate’ to be way worse than any curse word I’ve ever heard.

If you still can’t deal with it blame my mother. I could cuss in four different languages before I could do subtraction.