"Thinkers are rare; doers are rarer; and thinker-doers are rarest."

Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man Month

Alan Turing - Pilot ACE


Although a mathematician, Turing took quite an interest in the engineering side of computer design. There was some discussion in 1947 as to whether a cheaper substance than mercury could not be found for use as an ultrasonic delay medium. Turing's contribution to this discussion was to advocate the use of gin, which he said contained alcohol and water in just the right proportions to give a zero temperature coefficient of propagation velocity at room temperature.

Maurice Wilkes, Computers Then and Now

Text rights: Creator: Maurice Wilkes • Statement: In Copyright

Bill Atkinson - HyperCard

Bill Atkinson

Bill has a radar for the personal angle, and the idea of one person gaining an unearned edge over another is loathsome to him. One-on-one he is an intense communicant. Bill is an eye-contact person, giving you total attention, really wanting to know how you are doing, how you are feeling. He hugs. And he thinks that "business as usual" is no excuse for not doing what's right.

The second thing crucial to Bill is his need to get his products out into the world. He bears scars from those times when a project of his failed to reach the public. He loved the idea that Apple bundled his MacPaint with every Macintosh, and he was crushed when the company decided that his post-Mac project, a flat-pad communicating computer called Magic Slate, was too esoteric a product to begin developing in 1985. He went into a depression, not working for months, until one night he wandered out of his house in the Los Gatos hills, stared at the star-filled sky, and had an epiphany: In the face of the awesome celestial epic, what was the point of being depressed? All you could do, really, was use your abilities to do what you could to make a little part of the universe better. And Bill Atkinson went back into the house and began using his abilities to work on a new project that would become known as HyperCard.

Steven Levy, "Bill and Andy's Excellent Adventure II"

Text rights: Creator: Steven Levy • Statement: In Copyright

Buckminster Fuller - Dymaxion map


In all his endeavors, Fuller's basic operating strategy was to construct artifacts (i.e., inventions) which solved specific problems and could be examined by the public. During the early years of his life, Bucky had noticed a great many people with 'good ideas' who never risked action. Later, as he became more well known, Fuller was perpetually accosted by such individuals who, with the best of intentions, wanted to apprise him of their good ideas, and he became even more aware of the fact that everyone has ideas. Bucky had, however, concluded that merely talking about ideas does not support their advancement or the development of individuals and humanity.

In fact, he found that the majority of people do nothing about their good ideas except engage in seemingly endless discussions. During such discussions, those with the good ideas perpetually attest to the value of their concepts and how their ideas would improve the human condition if only other people would abide by their wisdom.

As he had tried out a similar strategy of talking about his good ideas for a short period, Bucky was keenly aware of that methodology and its ineffectiveness. Once he became cognizant of the abundance of good ideas being discussed, Fuller began building models, both full-size and to scale, of his concepts in order to advance them into more functional forms and to demonstrate their practicality. Through that process, he discovered that translating an idea into a practical artifact is an extremely significant step in its development.

Fuller found that once an idea is manifested in a functional configuration, it can be examined by others, and only then can it be put to the crucial test: acceptance and use by society. He also learned that such acceptance does not occur overnight in most instances. Rather, an idea, and the physical manifestation of that idea, must progress through a gestation period, which might last for months, years, decades, or even centuries. Still, Fuller believed that an idea has first to be manifested in a functional artifact which can be displayed and discussed. He also felt that he learned much more from reducing his ideas to such practical solutions and creating artifacts than from anything else which occupied his time.

Lloyd Steven Sieden, Buckminster Fuller's Universe

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Christopher Alexander - Sala House

Christopher Alexander

There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.

Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

Text rights: Creator: Christopher Alexander • Statement: In Copyright

Claude Shannon - Theseus maze

Claude Shannon

[Shannon] was a tinkerer to the end of his life, and he worked with his hands long after he had any need to. But unlike other tinkerers, he had a way of getting behind things. He loved the objects under his hands, right up to the point when he abstracted his way past them. Switches weren't just switches, but a metaphor for math. There had been legions of jugglers and unicycle riders in the world, but few were as compelled as Shannon would be to fit those activities to equations. Most important of all, he would abstract his way past all of human communication, to the structure and form that every message holds in common. In all these endeavors, he was distinguished less by quantitative horsepower than by his mastery of model making: the reduction of big problems to their essential core.

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

Text rights: Creator: Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman • Statement: In Copyright

Douglas Engelbart - The Mother of All Demos


By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers—whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human "feel for a situation" usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

Man's population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate, but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of that activity. Augmenting man's intellect, in the sense defined above, would warrant full pursuit by an enlightened society if there could be shown a reasonable approach and some plausible benefits.

Douglas Engelbart, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework"

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Helen and Scott Nearing - The Good Life Center


The value of doing something does not lie in the ease or difficulty, the probability or improbability of its achievement, but in the vision, the plan, the determination and the perseverance, the effort and the struggle which go into the project. Life is enriched by aspiration and effort, rather than by acquisition and accumulation.”

Helen and Scott Nearing, The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living

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Leonardo da Vinci - Vitruvian man

Leonardo da Vinci

The doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change ... are both the thinker doer in one person. If we really go back and examine ... Did Leonardo have a guy off to the side that was thinking five years out in the future what he would paint or the technology he would use to paint? Of course not. Leonardo was the artist but he also mixed all his own paints. He also was a fairly good chemist, knew about pigments, knew about human anatomy, and combining all of those skills together, the art and the science, the thinking and the doing, was what resulted in the exceptional result.

Steve Jobs, interview for the WGBH/BBC series The Machine That Changed The World (1990)

Text rights: Creator: Steve Jobs

Niklaus Wirth - Lilith workstation


Every single project was primarily a learning experiment. One learns best when inventing. Only by actually doing a development project can I gain enough familiarity with the intrinsic difficulties and enough confidence that the inherent details can be mastered. I never could separate the design of a language from its implementation, for a rigid definition without the feedback from the construction of its compiler would seem to me presumptuous and unprofessional. Thus, I participated in the construction of compilers, circuity, and text and graphics editors, and this entailed microprogramming, much high-level programming, circuit design, board layout, and even wire wrapping. This may seem odd, but I simply like hands-on experience much better than team management. I have also learned that researchers accept leadership from a factual, in-touch team member much more readily than from an organization expert, be he a manager in industry or a university professor. I try to keep in mind that teaching by setting a good example is often the most effective method and sometimes the only one available.

Lastly, each of these projects was carried through by the enthusiasm and the desire to succeed in the knowledge that the endeavor was worthwhile. This is perhaps the most essential but also the most elusive and subtle prerequisite.

Niklaus Wirth, From Programming Language Design to Computer Construction

Text rights: Creator: Niklaus Wirth • Statement: In Copyright