Sunday, May 01, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
On 100th anniversary of his birth - Claude Shannon was born in Petoskey, Mich., and grew up in Gaylord, Mich. He worked as a messenger for Western Union while in Gaylord High School, and attended college at MIT, where he was a member of Tau Beta Pi.
Although the algebra of digital binary bits was first uncovered by mathematician George Boole in the mid-19th century, it was Shannon who saw the value of applying that form of logic to electronic communications. As a student of Vannevar Bush's at MIT in the 1930s, he worked on the differential analyzer, perhaps the greatest mechanical (analog) calculator. His paper, "A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits," which led to a long association with Bell Laboratories, laid out Shannon's theories on the relationship of symbolic logic and relay circuits....
When I was young, Shannon's work was a tough nut to crack, but it certainly was intriguing. As a high school boy, I was interested in the future -- maybe more so than now, when I live and breathe and work in what that future became. Grappling with Shannon's basic information theories was part of my education about the future.
Growing up in a Wisconsin city across the lake from Shannon's birthplace, I tried to plow through the town library as best I could. I wanted to learn about computers, automation, and the combination of the two that was known in those days (the 1960s) as cybermation. I discovered for myself -- by chance, really -- that the fundamental elements of those ideas were Shannon's inventions.
For the better part of Shannon's life, analog communication ruled. Of course, his greatest achievement was visualizing digital communication. Much of his greatest work revolved around defining information in relation to "noise," the latter phenomenon being quite familiar to anyone who often tried desperately to home in on radio signals before digital communication filters came into being. I came to appreciate that aspect of Shannon's work later on when, as a journalist, I had the opportunity to learn and write about digital signal processing.
Then I found out that Shannon had laid the groundwork for modern error correction coding, an essential element of things like hard disk drive design and digital audio streaming, and probably many things yet to come....
Day and night, data, messages, music, and more swirls around us -- all made possible to some extent by the idea of communicating electronically in 1's and 0's. It is something to think that a Western Union messenger could have conceived of this new world. [ this ran on his death... and was reposted on this blog in 2013]
One night on tv there was a show about ‘hippies’. They had these guys on, and I would bet they were from the commune that John identified: The True Light Beavers. The joke was one of them had a basketball uniform top on saying “True Light Beavers”. I knew it was a put on. And I liked it. They took their name from the shirt they found at a Goodwill. Are you religious? The moderator asked. Yes, they said. Our religion is called the True Light Beavers. We worship garbage. I took this back to Racine with me, but I guess I came back with True Water Beavers rather than True Light. Rashomon!
When I got back people were glad to see me. (This was a first). And I told them what I saw in Boston. I was able to show them what I saw, cause I had 21 Fillmore posters. There was a dance at Lakeside. Henken, Murray, Bob LaFrance, Bill Little and me found a tank on the outskirts of town. Got in it, and sang Fugs song. I can remember Baby You’re a Rich Man coming out on the radio, driving around, maybe, with John and Bob Stepien. I told all about the True Water Beavers.
[One night some of us decided to start both a religion and a band the following day. In the spirit of the Beavers we were going to make our instruments from organic matter. The next day, at the beach, where we were to meet up, I think only two guys but me showed up. I’d say Dave Murray and Bob LaFrance. Making instruments out of tree twigs was not easy We didn't have a quorum so that was that. ]
And then I assume it was the next winter and we were in film art class. And John and Al and Bob made a movie I joined in on. Like the Monkees or Hard Days Night. But one of y'all sure got the feel for stop-motion – it was rollicking - sound track was Joan Collins…From Lawrence Welk playing ragtime (Rampart St Stomp)…and a title was needed for the film: and John selected: “So you want to be a Beaver.” So that’s the story from my recollection. -Jack