Stanford Ovshinsky

Stanford R. Ovshinsky

Flickr photographer Joi Ito has posted a wonderful portrait of Stanford Ovshinsky who passed away last month.

Ovshinsky’s work on energy conversion products and batteries caught my attention in 1972 and I’ve been following him ever since. He was a genius who struggled against the weight of big business’ denial of a need for a cheaper way to make electricity. Along the way he invented NiMH batteries that fixed the problem with NiCad batteries having a memory for their last charge. This was a minor invention of his. Others include a method for printing active solar panels on flexible material (used in roofing) and a device that could be placed in a large smokestack to capture waste heat and turn it into electricity. His early work on batteries for electric cars got pushed aside by GM and others because they weren’t ready to give up gasoline.

While Ovshinsky holds over 400 patents and invented things that we use every day, his story is also includes inventions that were rejected because the business world wasn’t ready to accept the kind of change that we now see tipping into more general acceptance.

One of the more amazing facts about Stanford Ovshinsky is that he was completely self taught: he never went to college or graduate school.

Bret Victor: inventing on principle

Bret Victor – Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

Bret’s talk takes a while (53 minutes) but man is it worth it. Don’t be put off by the code (if you don’t code), it’s less about code, more about tight interactivity leading to more creativity as a guiding principle. When you couple excellent coding skills with a creative person who enjoys sharing many things are possible and this video is a demonstration of that.

Seymour Papert, various folks at the IBM Watson Research Lab, Bill Atkinson, Alan Kay, Larry Tesler, and others at Xerox PARC, and many other people have been working in this area but I have to say, Bret’s talk is the best I’ve heard (and I’ve heard many). He uses Tesler’s invention of modeless text editing as an example, among others.

Bret’s web site: Bret Victor