Our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and a new world is struggling to be born.
Visionary Creatives are driven to bring this new world to all of us.
6th July 2016

Re-reading Carver Mead


Xerox Alto 10 years before the Mac

Xerox Alto 10 years before the Mac

With some summer time on my hands, I am belatedly reading Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, the story of the computer technology developed at Xerox PARC — the personal computer, the mouse, the graphical user interface, the laser printer, Ethernet, computer graphics and video, etc. (Xerox could have owned the whole thing, but gave it away to Apple, and then brought in executives from Detroit to kill what they had.)

Carver Mead

Carver Mead

Carver Mead shows up in the story — recalling for me his role in the book Microcosm, which describes how, at various times when the computer industry was stuck, Mead would come down from the mountains, gather a group of grad students at Cal Tech, and produce the next needed revolution. He is responsible for:

– VLSI (the modern computer chip)
– Silicon compilers (tell the terminal what you want a chip to do and it designs the circutry)
– CMOS (the sensor in cameras)
– photo sensors that compute
– Neural Networks
– The computer touchpad (on all of today’s laptops)
– The computation for cochlea implants
– A form of flash memory (flash drives)

The fun part about all this for me is that I got to live through it — slides of lots of this stuff that I took from science magazine when they happened are, to this day, in my the lectures for my “Impact of Technology” course.

Mead founded the computer science department at Cal Tech in 1976. (Pratt Institute, where I teach, had a department of computer science in the 1960s, but got rid of it in 1993 when it was decided that computers were a passing fad.)

Mead founded the field of “The Physics of Computation.” That and information theory are summarized in “Quest for the Quantum Computer” by Julian Brown, forward by David Deutsch. I am still hoping to create a reading group to work through the book.

Collective ElectMy favorite Mead story involves him as a grad student approaching Feynman with the observation that Maxwell’s equations had not been integrated with quantum theory. Feynman replied, “Yea, I know, I gotta fix it,” but he never did.

Mead eventually took on the task himself in his 2002 Collective Electrodynamics: Quantum Foundations of Electromagnetism, in which he reconceptualizes physics. Electrons do not exist individually, but as relationships.

The body text of the book is beyond me, but the introduction is a joy. My next re-read.

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5th May 2016

Cities and Economic Creativity

41FH14HS4ALIt is Jane Jacobs’s 100th birthday and she is deservedly being widely celebrated. But in many cases by people who have not read her books. She is evoked in support of liberalism, but her economics were anything but.

In The Economy of Cities she shows that economic planning leads to stagnation, while a free market economy can lead to vitality. In The Nature of Economies she shows the parallels between economies and ecosystems, with planned economies like cultivation. And in Dark Age Ahead she laments the disintegration of our culture, starting with the family.

So let’s celebrate Jane Jacobs, but let’s at the same time read her amazing books.

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6th April 2016

Self-Driving Cars: The Real Threat

Google-self-driving-car-prototype-front-three-quartersEverything you have heard about self-driving cars misses the point. (They are sometimes called autonomous cars, but that term definitely misses the point.)

Self-driving cars are coming quicker than we thought. We have long been hearing about Google’s self-driving cars in California, but now every major car company is working on them, and the New York Times recently reported on their rapid advancement in China, which, as we will see, is significant in more ways than we might think. Read the rest of this entry »

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6th March 2016

Reading from “Visionary Creativity”

JLobellSee a reading from my book, Visionary Creativity: How New Worlds are Born, on YouTube. The reading was at the Pratt Manhattan Campus, Presented by The Fund for Pratt Learning Salon in December, 2015. You can get the book on Amazon and Barns & Noble.

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3rd March 2016

Becoming Creative

Brian Chippendale

Brian Chippendale

In college I read a lot of Andre Gide. The Immoralist — wow! I still look at it occasionally, although these days I am more likely to rewatch Jack Nicholson in Wolf. (Same idea.)

One of my favorite Gide quotes is, “You have to lose your reputation to save your life.” It came to mind when I read an article in the New York Times:

“How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off”
Adam Grant January. 30, 2016 Read the rest of this entry »

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12th February 2016

A Frank Lloyd Wright MOOC

GuggenheimMy online course on Frank Lloyd Wright is complete. (It is a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course.) You can binge watch the whole thing at Open Online Academy (https://www.ooed.org). It is free.

This course is hugely comprehensive, looking in detail at Wright’s buildings, but also looking at his life, the context of his work, and the culture and technology of the 20th century. And Wright’s implications for our emerging 21st century. Read the rest of this entry »

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21st November 2015

Reading, Book Signing, and Reception for “Visionary Creativity”

VC cover copy 2The reading was in December 2015 at the Pratt Manhattan Campus. You can see it on YouTube at John Lobell: Visionary Creativity Reading.



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29th October 2015

The Digital Industrial Revolution and how it will change creativity

by John LobellMakerBot-Replicator-2

It’s ultimately about who we are as human beings!

Affordable ($500) 3D printers are everywhere, in schools, in homes, and certainly in the news, but they are only a small part of something bigger.

A new way of making things is emerging, variously described as digital fabrication, desktop manufacturing, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, the Third Industrial Revolution, the New Industrial Revolution, the Maker Movement, etc. Here I am using the term, “the Digital Industrial Revolution.” One way of understanding the Digital Industrial Revolution is to look at the revolution in graphic (2D) design and production, which is now totally digital. With the Digital Industrial Revolution, digital processes can be now applied to material objects (3D) for fabrication and even mass production in a manner that parallels what happened in graphic design. Read the rest of this entry »

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19th September 2015

Creating an Original Self

young-steve-jobsby John Lobell

I recall in high school English class reading an essay by Emerson and being asked by my teacher, what I thought. I said that I thought, “What am I doing in high school, I should drop out and get on with my life.” She replied, “That is not what he meant at all.” She did not tell me what Emerson did mean, and of course that was exactly what he meant.

We often think of our culture as being defined by its technological advances, and that characterization is in part correct. But why do we have those technological advances and why were they initially unique to the West? It is due to the release of individual creativity. And our first creative task? To create an original Self.

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke writes: Read the rest of this entry »

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12th September 2015

Do you create alone or in groups?


thinkerI notice that my students are today smarter, more attentive, more hard working than in the past. And also less imaginative. When I discuss this with them, it becomes apparent that many faculty do not want students to exercise their imaginations—they want them to be good little sponges and absorb what they are told. And then spout it back.

We see the effort to repress individuality and impose groupthink everywhere, beginning in kindergarten where children are assigned group projects and extending into colleges. Everywhere we are told that we need community, collaboration, cooperation, consensus, compromise. Read the rest of this entry »

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