Links We Like: Founding Mothers of Silicon Valley, Seeing with Sound, and Rescuing Priceless Manuscripts

Founding Mothers of Silicon Valley via Backchannel

Founding Mothers of Silicon Valley via Backchannel

This week’s Links We Like reconsiders the founders of Silicon Valley, uses sound to see, and documents the librarians who saved the great libraries of Timbuktu.

Last week’s post resulted in a few link recommendations, including Senkun‘s suggestion to check out How to Make Your Text Look Futuristic — a must read for any aspiring future typographers. Don’t forget to add a starfield to your background to make it more futuristic. Have a great weekend! ☆*:. (⌐■_■) .:*☆


Jessi Hempel of Backchannel recently wrote a response to Newsweek’s one-sided coverstory on the founders of Silicon Valley. Their article championed seven white men as the founders of an entire industry. Hempel disagreed and was rightly unconvinced by the Newsweek story. “Three words for you, Newsweek: What the hell?”

Founding Mothers of Silicon Valley is Hempel’s response and corrective. In it she presents six women who all shaped the early companies of Silicon Valley and continue to innovate in the industry –Judy Estrin, Lynn Conway, Sandy Kurtzig, Donna Dubinsky, Sandy Lerner, and Diane Greene. Hempel also includes an unnamed seventh woman that’s meant as a provocation for further discussion about the essential role of women in creating the technology industry.

  • Judy Estrin held the position of CTO at CISCO, the largest networking company in the world, and has gone on to launch 5 successful start-ups.
  • Lynn Conway, while at Xerox PARC labs, fundamentally changed how microprocessors are designed and co-wrote the authorotative text on the topic: Introduction to VLSI Systems. She left the Valley for academic life at the University of Michigan and has recently retired.
  • Sandy Kurtzig founded and sold ASK Computers Systems for $300 million. She now spends time on the board of Kenandy, an enterprise cloud-based company that she founded.
  • Donna Dubinsky served as the founding CEO of Palm, makers of a handheld personal organizer device that is remarkably similar to today’s smartphone. She is now busy reverse-engineer the brain’s neocortex at Numenta.
  • Sandy Lerner was part of a group at Stanford who designed the router. They subsequently formed CISCO, which she ran as CEO for three years before they took outside investor money.
  • Diane Greene, not only started and sold a streaming video company for $75 million, she also started VMWare with a group from Berkeley. Today VMWare is arguably the goto software suite for virtualization of operating systems.

Hempel’s article is an important one to not only read, but also to share. Hopefully Newsweek and other mainstream media outlets will avoid old tropes of a male dominated technical industry and share more nuanced and inclusive historical accounts of the people who built Silicon Valley.

Seeing with Sound

 Seeing with sound via

Seeing with sound via

In the Marvel comic book series Daredevil, Matt Murdock losses his sight due to an accident with radioactive chemicals. Sightless, Murdock develops a superior radar-like hearing and uses it to help him fight crime under the cover of darkness.

In the real life, Artem Litvinovich wanted to construct a computing device that mimicked Daredevil’s ability to see with sound, though he was not familiar with the comic book hero at the time he began the project. He simply wanted to make a cool DIY project that interested him.

Litvinovich’s plan was to wire a number of microphones as inputs to an field programmable gate array (FGPA), a specialized type of computer where the device logic can be reconfigured. The FPGA would run some advanced math on the input signals and prestso, Litvinovich would have an image created from the sound.

Unfortunately, for the circuit to work in this design, Litvinovich needed every microphone to have an amplifier and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). This would allow the analog sound waves to be converted into a digital signal that the FPGA could take as input. The downside of this approach was that it would simply cost too much money!

Then Litvinovich discovered the MEMS microphone. MEMS mics have an amplifier and an ADC built into the microphone as an integrated circuit. This meant that he could simply buy a handful of MEMs mics and wire them directly to the FPGA. Fewer parts, lower cost.

Early prototype using the MEMS microphone

Early prototype using the MEMS microphone

To test his design, Litvinovich created a 8×1 prototype using 8 MEMS sensors wired to an FPGA. With a bit of tinkering Litvinovich was able to confirm that his design worked and began working on a larger 16×16 array of mics.

The array of MEMS microphones used to create the animated GIF above

The array of MEMS microphones used to create the animated GIF above

This is an advanced DIY project, but fascinating to read about from afar. For a more detailed account of the project, including images from the final microphone array, check out the

The Great Library Heist of Timbuktu

Abdel Kader Haidara organizes the manuscripts in the Mamma Haidara Library Photography By Alexandra Huddleston

Abdel Kader Haidara organizes the manuscripts in the Mamma Haidara Library Photography By Alexandra Huddleston

When you think of clandestine operations you probably don’t think of librarians or archivists. But these are the people who saved thousands of priceless manuscripts dating from the 14th and 15th century from Timbuktu libraries targeted by extremists. Moving by the cover of night, harrowing road trips, checkpoints are crossed with bribes backed by money from international foundations, this story is full of everything from a spy movie!

In the summer of 2012, Abdel Kader Haidara and his fellow scholars covertly relocated thousands of volumes ranging from studies of science to works of literature, the volumes they saved documented the rich tradition of learning in Timbuktu.

The small, secretive group told no one what they were doing, excluding even their close families from the secret. The risks were too high. Over the course of several nights, they collected the books, snuck them to safe houses for temporary storage, and ultimately transported them to Bamako, the capital city of Mali.

Joshua Hammer’s account of Haidara and his colleagues is astonishing. This article is a modified excerpt from Hammer’s book —The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, which originally appeared in Mental Floss, a bimonthly print magazine. This is a book I’m definitely going to read.

Have a great weekend, make sure to share any interesting links you find with us in the forums.

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