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The Geeky Oscars

I had the chance, earlier this week, to attend an event called “The 8th Annual Industry Hall of Fame” dinner at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. This is an event that used to be held at COMDEX, the Vegas tech tradeshow that ceased to exist after last year’s edition, and in the past they’ve inducted luminaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Michael Dell.

I had the chance, earlier this week, to attend an event called “The 8th Annual Industry Hall of Fame” dinner at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. This is an event that used to be held at COMDEX, the Vegas tech tradeshow that ceased to exist after last year’s edition, and in the past they’ve inducted luminaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Michael Dell.

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This year, the inductees included Alvy Ray Smith, co-founder of Pixar; John Seely Brown, onetime director of the Xerox PARC technology lab; and Jim Clark, a founder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics. (Interestingly, the Computer History Museum is based in nifty building right off the 101 freeway that was built for Silicon Graphics, but never occupied. The company simply shrunk too fast.)

During the cocktail hour, I bumped into mainframe legend Gene Amdahl, who happened to be celebrating his 82nd birthday. (Amdahl told me that he started his company when IBM, where he began his career, wouldn’t listen to his good ideas.) Later, I saw Dan Bricklin, a previous inductee and the co-inventor of the first computer spreadsheet software, VisiCalc. Dan had given a talk earlier in the day on “Innovation that Makes People Pull Out Their Wallets.” Dan always carries a digital camera with him, and his always-engaging blog has some photos from the event, as well as commentary.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was the keynote speaker at the dinner. He talked without slides or A/V, and his speech rambled a bit… but here are some of the ideas that stuck with me:

  • Almost every significant project Wozniak has worked on benefitted from a lack of resources and a lack of money.
  • Having no prior experience in a field can be a tremendous advantage, forcing you to be inventive (and learn fast).
  • Great innovations are like great jokes. A joke, Woz said, has a line of thinking that progresses logically and then takes a sharp left turn that no one expected. Important new technologies happen the same way. Creative thinkers look for opportunities to make that sharp left.
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