Book: Bricklin on Technology

I haven’t been reading that much lately (only 27 books so far this year) so I had a nice weekend chewing on a handful of them as I tried to catch my breath from a few weeks of constantly moving around.

The first – and most enjoyable – was Bricklin on Technology .  I’ve somehow managed to end up with three of them – I know that Dan Bricklin sent me one and Amazon sent me one, but I don’t know where the third came from.  Dan told me about this book a few months ago when I saw him in Boston at the TechStars for a Day event.  He’s done an outstanding job of combining his essays on computing with updated thinking along with a bunch of great history.  There are a dozen chapters – each are a “mini-book” within the book.  My favorite was Chapter 12: VisiCalc (which is – not surprisingly – the history of VisiCalc) but the other chapters are all great and include things like:

  • What Will People Pay For?
  • The Recording Industry and Copying
  • Leveraging the Crowd
  • Blogging and Podcasting: Observations through Their Development
  • Tools: My Philosophy about What We Should Be Developing

I first heard of Dan Bricklin in 1979.  I had bought an Apple II with my bar mitzvah money (and some help from my dad).  When VisiCalc came out, we bought one of the first copies; we still have the original 5.25” disk in the brown vinyl VisiCalc binder (our copy was the one featured in the Triumph of the Nerds video series – that’s another long story.)  Not surprisingly, Dan and his partner Bob Frankston were early heroes of mine.  I even bought a copy of TK Solver when it came out.

I finally met Dan in 1995 when he was starting to think about the company that became Trellix.  I think we were introduced by Aaron Kleiner, but I can’t remember.  Yes – I was really excited the first time we met!  I ended up helping out in the very early days of Trellix through the point that Dan raised a $200k seed financing from CRV.  I’ve always loved the way Dan’s brain works and Bricklin on Technology is a bunch of it in one portable package.

I was at MIT on Thursday and Friday last week.  One of my favorite things to do when I’m there is browse in the MIT Press Bookstore in Kendall Square.  I ended up picking up a handful of computer books that I read (well – I read some and skimmed some) this weekend.  They are:

Designing Gestural Interfaces: Touchscreens and Interactive Devices : HCI for beginners.  If you are interested in HCI or gestural interfaces but haven’t thought much about them, this is a quick, easy read. However, it’s really simple and there is a ton of important stuff missing from it.  One fascinating insight – the bathroom has become a test bed for gestural interface technology (ah – my heart flutters).  C.

Semantic Web For Dummies (For Dummies) : Alex Iskold from AdaptiveBlue would be proud of me.  Like most of the Dummies books, it was filled with filler (probably 50% of it could have been chopped) but it had plenty of useful examples.  I didn’t learn much from it as I knew most of it but I was searching for something suitably “beginner” aimed at a software developer.  I’d give this one a C+.

A Semantic Web Primer, 2nd Edition (Cooperative Information Systems) : This one was a little more serious.  Again, it was aimed at beginners, but I thought it was much more logical, much better structured (how ironic), and more insightful than the Dummies book.  It’s also more like a textbook so it presents the same concepts in a more serious nature.  I give this one a B.  As a result, I’m still searching for a great “beginners Semantic Web” book.

I think it’s time for some mental floss.

  • Brad,

    LOL 🙂 on Tuesday, I am speaking on the panel called "Idiot's guide to semantic web", I kid you not:

    Well what can I say, people are really looking to dumb that thing down, and its a good thing. Until recently Semantic Web was just an academic topic and I am glad that in the last couple of years we are adding some pragmatism and business sense.

  • I remember meeting Dan Bricklin on a flight from Boston to god knows where. Rajat and I were riding together, and Dan learned that Rajat was on the flight. He dropped by to say hello and grab a photo of Rajat – very humble, almost selfless; very excited about what was happening with Rajat (who was featured in Fortune magazine at the time).

    • Yup – that’s Dan!  And I remember the photo. 

  • The photos are on this page of my Fall Comdex 2000 Journal. (Brad, thanks for the kind book review.)

    • I wondered about that. The photo of Rajat was in Forbes, not Fortune. It's great to see the shots you took on that flight.

  • I saw those same books in the MIT Press Bookstore recently. Found one of significant interest to me:

    Stop by the Clover Food Truck in Kendall next time for breakfast or lunch. Amazing vegetarian food:

  • Brad, kudos to you for mentioning the Dummies books in open forum.

    Dummies books rock – but you have to get past that first time purchase. The first time I bought one was after a frustrating marketing meeting. I bought "Marketing for Dummies" as an antigift for one of the meeting participants. But then I started flicking through it and ended up reading it, cover to cover.

    I was taken aback at how clearly written and thoughtful it was. I think Alexander Hiam was the author.

    • Thanks.  I’m never afraid to read the Dummies books, although I despise the branding.

  • Bricklin's book isn't available on the Kindle! Is he a luddite?

    • The publisher ran into problems converting the formatting and text into Kindle format so I nixed it for now. I wrote it to a particular book design as I discussed on Turning My Blog Into A Book and the automatic conversion to the much more limited Kindle format changed things for the worse. I discussed this a bit on the Technometria podcast with Phil Windley a couple of weeks ago. The visual design is part of what makes the book work. Eventually we'll work out a way to put it on the Kindle, but not yet. Sorry.

    • Hah!  I think that’s a publisher issue, not a Dan issue…

  • Michael


    Do you realize that the word "dialogue" in the phrase "Thoughtful, engaging dialog is often the start of something new" ( is not really spelled correctly? While "dialog" is given as an alternate spelling to "dialogue" in every dictionary I've checked, it sounds and looks awfully uneducated. 🙂

    • Actually, I just went and checked and it actually is spelled correctly. Both dialog and dialogue are equivalent uses of the same word.

  • Aloha! fih

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