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A Mind at Play: Claude Shannon bio - Soni & Goodman


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I'm about 60 pages in and liking it so far. Very interesting to learn about pre-digital computers and how they could do fairly complex calculus simply be internally reproducing analogs to real world phenomenon with spinning discs and ball bearings and such.

 

There's a funny anecdote about how Shannon was almost prevented from taking a flying class as a student at MIT because his professors recognized how special a genius he was and they didn't think it was a good idea to put his life at risk :)

 

I also find it fascinating that Shannon and Turing met during the war, but couldn't really talk about what they were working on because it was so classified. Both of them together basically had all the theoretical pieces for digital computers.

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Even more stuff on Shannon:

 

https://medium.com/the-mission/10-000-hours-with-claude-shannon-12-lessons-on-life-and-learning-from-a-genius-e8b9297bee8f

 

The authors of the book wrote about their 5 years reseraching him and 12 lessons they learned from him.

 

Also, there's a review by Vin Cerf (co-inventor of TCP/IP protocol on which the internet is built) here:

 

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v547/n7662/full/547159a.html?foxtrotcallback=true

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm more than halfway through the book now, and the chapter I just finished (called "The Bomb", because the effect of Shannon's theories had the impact of a bomb on the field) was just excellent. I already knew many of the basics of information theory, but this was a good primer on how the ideas were developed and their game-changing impact.

 

I appreciate how the book spends a lot of time on Shannon's work and theories and doesn't focus that much on every single detail of his personal life and childhood and such as some biographies sometimes do (not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you want the definitive bio of someone, but some people are more interesting than others and sometimes you just want the highlights).

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Finally finished it. Here's my Amazon review:

 

I've been circling Claud Shannon for many years, but until now I could never satisfy my curiosity about him. When reading about Bell Labs, I saw many anecdotes and praise about the man. He was mentioned in works about Teledyne's Henry Singleton and books by and about Ed Thorp, he was also mentioned in works about Alan Turing, John von Neumann, etc. Clearly he deserved a good biography, and now he has it. The book doesn't try to give you every single detail known about Shannon's life but rather focuses on the highlights, and it's quite good at it. I already had some familiarity with Shannon's work, but the book - while accessible to the layperson - pushed it farther and gave me a better appreciation of what he did and why it matters so much. It was also a good portrait of Shannon's personality and quirks (which, in some ways, remind me a bit of Richard Feynman, another genius who didn't take himself too seriously and followed his curiosity rather than his ego). If you like biographies like I do, I think you'll enjoy this one.
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  • 1 month later...

Reading this book now. So far I like it but I studied computer science so might be a bit biased. Author sometimes has a tendency to hype / dramatize the story, which annoys me a bit.

 

FWIW I also read (and enjoyed) the book about Maxwell and Faraday. In both books Lord Kelvin (wikipedia) is a recurring character. Seems like that guy did everything. Physics, math, laying transatlantic cables, building analog computers, improving compasses, building power stations, being a member of the House of Lords, investing, chairing Kodak (the photo company) .. Makes me feel lazy!

 

Maybe his biography should be the next book on my nerd reading list.

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Reading this book now. So far I like it but I studied computer science so might be a bit biased. Author sometimes has a tendency to hype / dramatize the story, which annoys me a bit.

 

FWIW I also read (and enjoyed) the book about Maxwell and Faraday. In both books Lord Kelvin (wikipedia) is a recurring character. Seems like that guy did everything. Physics, math, laying transatlantic cables, building analog computers, improving compasses, building power stations, being a member of the House of Lords, investing, chairing Kodak (the photo company) .. Makes me feel lazy!

 

Maybe his biography should be the next book on my nerd reading list.

 

A character you may be interested in reading about would be Oliver Heaviside,

 

https://www.amazon.com/Oliver-Heaviside-Electrical-Genius-Victorian/dp/0801869099/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1507132294&sr=8-2&keywords=oliver+heaviside

 

The above book is good, but there are some equations and circuit diagrams in it!

 

Heaviside developed modern vector notation, which was also independently developed at the same time by Josiah Gibbs. Heaviside needed his vector notation to take the 18 equations Maxwell worked with and compact them into the four Maxwell equations, which Maxwell never saw!

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I watched the documentary and liked it. It's not very in-depth, so it's probably more attractive for non-technical people.

 

I still haven't finished the book. I started it and it was boring. Might have to pick it up again sometime.

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