Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the literary geniuses of the 1800's. However during his life, he had trouble selling his work. No one wanted to pay for his stories. He tried unsuccessfully to start magazines, and the magazines he worked for generally went out of business. He died a relatively young man, penniless and unappreciated.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vincent van Gogh

Perhaps one of our best examples of "Died Penniless" is artist Vincent van Gogh, whose self portrait is presented above. During his lifetime he sold only 1 painting, and he died at the age of 37, taking his own life. Recently, his paintings are going for over one hundred million dollars a pop. Someone made some money on his paintings, but he never did.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Charles Goodyear

Today we consider the case of Charles Goodyear. He invented the modern process of manufacturing stable rubber products. The process is called vulcanization of rubber. It was one of the biggest inventions of the 1800's, and enabled rubberized shoes and rain jackets, and practical automobile tires. Goodyear never really benefited from his invention, and died unknown and pretty much penniless. It was not until after his death that Goodyear Tire Company was created in his honor.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Abraham Lincoln and Tad

One of the interesting things I find in studying history is that many people that we consider Giants and Geniuses were not recognized or appreciated by their own generation. It is like some people are so far ahead of everyone else, that it takes a generation or two for people to appreciate what a person was doing or saying. Many of these people died alone and penniless. This week we will be looking at these people who were not fully appreciated by their own generation.

We start with Abraham Lincoln. Many people consider Lincoln one of our greatest presidents, but he enjoyed little popular support when he lived. I found it interesting reading an article about him in a large newspaper at the time of his death. The article said of Lincoln, "Posterity will see in him a greater man than his contemporaries can acknowledge".

Friday, July 26, 2013

Robert Goddard

We wrap up Genius Week today with this picture of Robert Goddard. He, as much as anyone else, could be described as the Father of the American Space Program. This picture was taken in 1931 near Roswell New Mexico. He is transporting one of his early rocket prototypes to the launch pad behind his Ford Model A truck. I love pictures like this that show different eras . . . you would never expect to see such an early model car pulling a rocket. Goddard died in the 40's before the US space program really ramped up, so it was not until after his death that people really realized his genius.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wilhelm Rontgen

Today we feature genius Wilhelm Rontgen, who is remembered for discovering x-rays. He was the first to produce x-rays, and to detect them. This work led to the development of practical medical x-ray imaging. X-ray imaging is one of the most important medical developments of the last 150 years, because it allowed doctors to see what was going on underneath the skin.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nicola Tesla

Today's genius is Nicola Tesla. The picture was taken in 1899 in his Colorado Springs research laboratory, where he was looking into some high energy experiments. Tesla was important because his insights, inventions, engineering and mathmatical work is what enabled practical electrical power generation, distribution and use. Being responsible for enabling usable electrical power to be provided to all homes is a pretty big deal. Tesla, while he was a genius, was also a very quirky man. People are still trying to decipher and understand some of his writings and ideas.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Robert Oppenheimer

Today's genius is Robert Oppenheimer, pictured above on the left. Oppenheimer was responsible for leading the team of scientists at the Manhattan Project for the development of the first atomic bomb. It would be unfair to call him the "inventor" of the atomic bomb. The bomb was not so much something that was invented as it was "realized". Based on work by physicists like Einstein and others in the early 1900's, it was "realized" that a small amount of matter contained a huge amount of energy, and if that huge amount of energy was released incredibly powerful bombs could be made. Oppenheimer was the one responsible for taking the equations, and turning them into something that goes "boom".  Like the bomb or not, there is no denying the genius that was required to realize it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Willis Whitfield

We have learned this week that Shockley invented the transistor, and then Jack Kilby had the idea to build multiple transistors, or complete circuits at the same time on Silicon. We now had the integrated circuit. With these techniques, people soon realized that you could batch fabricate 1,000 transistors on a circuit for no more cost than building one, if you just made the transistors smaller. Very quickly the race began to make smaller transistors, so more could be packed onto a chip, creating more powerful and capable circuits. This race very quickly came to a standstill. What happened is that as you try to make smaller transistors, manufacturing becomes very difficult because any speck of dust in the air that landed on the silicon during fabrication would ruin a transistor, making the entire circuit not work. People then tried to make ultra-clean rooms, but to no avail. The little particles would still end up flying around the room, eventually finding a circuit to ruin. This is where today's Genius came in . . . Willis Whitfield, who is pictured above with his invention. Willis realized that the way to get the particles all out of a room was to create a situation where the airflow was Laminar and not turbulent. That is, he designed a room where the airflow was directed straight down from the top of the room to the bottom of the room, out the floor, and then through filters, before being sent back into the top of the room. There were lots of technical details to creating Laminar Flow, but with success you create ultra-pristinely- clean manufacturing rooms. It was this idea of Laminar Flow Clean Rooms which allowed the manufacture of intgrated circuits to go beyond having a few transistors each to today's circuits which might have in excess of 10 Billion transistors each.

Willis Whitfield worked at Sandia National Laboratories. I worked at Sandia from 1983 to about 2000. I remember seeing Willis Whitfield, but I don't remember ever meeting him. The ironic thing is that I was responsible for managing Sandia's Microelectronic Manufacturing facilities. I knew about Willis, but just never had the chance to sit down and talk to him. He did come by one day later in life and have his picture taken at our state of the art Laminar Flow Clean Room. Picture is shown below.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jack Kilby

Genius Week continues here at OPOD with our next selection . . . Jack Kilby. Yesterday we explained that the transistor was invented by Schockley and his cohorts. The transistor enabled things like the portable radio. In the 1920's-1940's, radios were big power hungry behemoths, but with the invention of the transistor, by the 1950's and 1960's you could have a portable battery powered radio you could carry around in your pocket. At this time, transistors were still built one at a time, and then wired up to make things like radios or radars. The genious of Jack Kilby was that he thought, " Hey, why build transistors one at a time . . . why not build a bunch at the same time and batch fabricate the circuits in bulk all on the same piece of silicon". This building of lots of interconnected transistors at the same time on the same piece of silicon is the Integrated Circuit. This is what allowed things like the pocket calculator which came on the scene in the early 1970's.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Welcome to Genius Week here at OPOD where we will be looking at some super smart people that changed the way the world works. We start with this picture of William Shockley, who is in the middle. Shockley, along with John Bardeen (left) and Walter Brattain (right) invented the transistor. The transistor is one of the all time most important inventions. You see, all computers and most all electronic devices work based off of all information being represented by 0's and 1's.  These can be realized by use of switches . . . an on switch represents a "1" and an off switch represents a "0". The very earliest computers used vacuum tubes as the on/off switches, but these were big, bulky, expensive, power hungry, hot, and they broke down frequently. The gentlemen in this picture figured out how to make a solid state switch in a piece of silicon, which they called the transistor. The transistor is small, cheap, low power, has no moving parts, and lasts virtually forever. It was this invention of the transistor that ushered in the computer age.

Shockley is generally the one most remembered for the invention. While a genius, by most accounts he was not a very nice man, and had trouble getting along with people. I think that this is not an unusual trait for uber-brilliant people. They somehow lack that social intuition that most folks have. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Harriet Quimby

Today's picture shows one of the pioneering women in flight. The picture is of Harriet Quimby in he airplane. The picture was taken in 1911. Harriet was the first woman to fly over the English Channel.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gustave Whitehead

The question of who was the first to fly is not nearly as clear as one would believe from reading High School text books. We have all been taught that the Wright Brothers were the first to achieve powered flight in 1903. More recently, some doubt has arisen, and there is some strong evidence that Gustave Whitehead achieved powered flight in 1901. The evidence is strong enough that the prestigious aviation magazine "Jane's" appears to be coming out in support of Whitehead being the first to fly. Adding intrigue to the controversy is the contract between the Wright Brothers and the Smithsonian Institute. The contract legally requires the museum to declare the Wrights the first to fly . . . "The Smithsonian shall [not state] any aircraft ... earlier than the Wright aeroplane of 1903 ... was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight, . . ." Well, once you get the Smithsonian to sign something like that, you are pretty much Golden, whether or not you were really the first to fly.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Woman Aviator

Welcome to Aviator Week! We will be looking at pictures from the early days of aviation. We start with this picture of  Helene Dutrieu. She was one of the very first women pilots. She flew an airplane as early as 1908. In 1910, she became one of the first women pilots to carry a passenger. Interestingly, she lived all the way to 1961, so she enjoyed both a long and adventurous life.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mother and Child

Navajo Week continues with this picture of an Indian Mother and Child. The woman is wearing a finely woven blanket, and has a neat device for carrying the child on her back. It looks like the hoops on the top are for shade for the child. The picture was taken in 1914.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stringing Bow

Navajo Week continues with this picture of a young Navajo man stringing his bow. The picture was taken in about 1913 somewhere in the Southwest.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


This picture shows Navajo Weavers. You can see that they are making an intricate blanket. It also looks like the little girl is holding a lamb. A thing that strikes me about this picture is how finely adorned the people are . . . all wearing nice clothes, jewelry and Concho Belts. Perhaps the Navajo adjusted into an artisan lifestyle that worked well for them.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Drinking Water

Today's picture features a Navajo man on horseback. He has taken his horse to the edge of a lake so the horse can drink. Notice the fine blanket he is wearing. We have seen this week that the Navajo made blankets, jewelry, and clay jars. The picture was taken in 1915.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gathering Water

Today's picture shows a Navajo Woman gathering water. The picture was taken in 1915 in the Southwest. You can see that she is wearing a finely decorated blanket, and she has a nice jar to gather the water with. The Navajo appear to have been adept artisans. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Navajo Weavers

Welcome to Navajo Week here at OPOD. I so much enjoyed some of the pictures last week of the Navajo Jewelry makers, I thought this week we would explore the Navajo in a little more depth. The picture above shows women making blankets. Notice how the woman has her baby propped up right there by the weaving loom. Also notice the sheep and goats behind the loom. It looks like this is a full operation going all the way from shearing to finished blankets.

Friday, July 5, 2013


We wrap up Jewelry Week with this picture of a young lady from Nepal. She has many unique ornaments and jewelry type items.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Navajo Jewelry

Today's picture shows a Navajo Craftsman making silver jewelry. The picture was taken in 1914. I wonder at what point Native Americans started working silver into jewelry. In this picture, clearly he is using modern tools.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Navajo Girl

Today's picture shows a young Navajo Girl. The girl is wearing a nice array of silver jewelry. The picture was taken in about 1920 near Gallup New Mexico. The girl is the daughter of the local silversmith.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Baghdad Silversmith

Today's picture shows a silversmith working on the street in Baghdad, Iraq. The picture was taken in 1932 by a photographer with the American Colony in Jerusalem. I love the look of careful attention on the man's face. I wish we could see the details of his work better.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pierre Cartier

Today we feature a picture of Pierre Cartier and his family. He was a world renowned jeweler. His family had been in the business for several generations, but Pierre is the man who opened the London and New York stores, which really made the name and the brand famous. At one point he owned the Hope Diamond.