💠 Sunday Scaries (03/28/21)

Bicycle for the mind, HP's enthusiasm, the last Whole Earth Catalog

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from the Big Island of Hawai’i.

The Earth is close here. Living on an active volcano means dealing with the rumbling and rolling ball of energy that is buried just beneath the surface.

Hawai’i is the newest island in the archipelago and home to the tallest mountain on the planet. Mauna Kea, or “white mountain”, is over 33,000 feet when measured from the seafloor. Like the rest of the islands in the Hawaiin chain, it was formed by magma bubbling up from the Pacific plate. This volcanic activity created the string of partially submerged mountains in the middle of an otherwise unbroken stretch of ocean.


What’s new from me:

  1. RACI: A framework for managing projects involving large groups of people. I realized that while this concept is well-known within certain fields, it’s relatively unknown outside of them, despite how useful it is.

  2. The Amateur: The word “amateur” has recently become associated with a lack of talent or skill. This wasn’t always the case. In fact, for most of our history amateurs have been the driving force behind innovation. I wrote about why it pays to be an amateur and the dangers of becoming too professional.

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In this week’s edition

A Bicycle For The Mind - Steve Jobs Interview (1981)

This interview was recorded just five years after Apple was founded. In it, Steve discusses the future of the personal computer and his vision for the future.

It’s filled with useful analogies, including the now-famous “bicycle for the mind”. He describes a study where scientists examined the amount of energy various species used to travel from point A to point B. For example, how long it takes a bird to travel, compared to a fish, compared to a man, and so on. A type of bird, the condor, won by a hefty margin thanks to its large wingspan that allows it to easily coast without effort. Humans had a poor showing, landing about a third of the way down the rankings.

However, someone had the bright idea to redo the study, except this time humans were allowed to use tools. It turns out a man riding a bicycle was twice as good as the condor, proving man’s ability as a tool-maker.

Steve describes the computer as a bicycle for the mind. Computers help remove the drudgery of manual work and free up time for people to work on creative tasks. This interview is a fantastic window into the early days of the computer and the possibilities that still remain in front of us.


Decisions for dynamic growth - HP (1964)

This document from Hewlett-Packard is a reminder that it’s alright for corporations to be ambitious.

Written twenty-five years after its founding, HP was a behemoth of the growing computer industry. The booklet is filled with examples of products they built and their management practices:

But just having an idea is not enough. It must pass close examination before it is accepted for special development. It must be practical, it must fill a need, and it must provide an economical solution to that need. Even after passing all tests, the idea is given a priority classification, depending on an appraisal of just how significant a contribution it will make.

Hewlett Packard's technological leadership is in the hands of 1,100 engineers and scientists at Palo Alto headquarters and at various other locations in the U.S., Germany, England, and Japan, Within this accomplished group are 22 Ph.D.'s and 203 with other advanced degrees. They work in an atmosphere where freedom of inquiry is an honored tradition and creative engineering is applied to every problem.


The Last Whole Earth Catalog (1971)

Stewart Brand is the eccentric creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, a publication that ran for four years between 1968 and 1971. The Catalog describes its purpose on the very first page:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far remotely done power and glory — as via government, big business, formal education, church — has succeeded to point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing — power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.

The Whole Earth Catalog earned its name when Brand realized there had never been a photo of the entire Earth as seen from space. He created buttons that said “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?” and visited college campuses to raise awareness for his campaign. In 1967, Brand’s question was answered when a NASA satellite captured the photo that became the cover image of the Whole Earth Catalog.


Have a great week,

Phil