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5 famous inventor biographies

The lives behind a few key inventors.

  • Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, was considered to be one of the first computer programmers.
  • Inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was also a socially-conscious man.
  • The Wright Brothers took the sky with minimal funding and support.

Human existence and technology goes hand in hand. Indeed, we are an inventing and thinking animal. All of us are inventors in our own right. Some of the greatest inventions of all time have radically changed the world and our lives. From igniting fire to developing the microchip, we shape our environment and our lives as we see fit through our inventive genius.

Throughout history some women and men have exceeded all expectations and had truly inventive spirits. We look toward them as trailblazers, icons, and as people we inspire to be.

Here are a few select biographies about luminaries who helped shape the modern world.

Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone

We all remember Alexander Graham Bell as the man who created the telephone. What a lot of us don't know is that Bell was a polymath in his time and an exceptionally gifted scientist who was verse in a number of fields. He was an expert in aviation, solar power, laser communication (before most scientists even considered this science valid) and even expressed interest in new and efficient ways of educating children

On top of being such a great scientist, Bell also was concerned about human carbon-emissions and the potential to raise the Earth's temperature. Bell had a wide range of interests and was also a gifted teacher, who actually went on to teach Helen Keller to speak. Bell championed civil rights at the time, women's suffrage and was an early environmentalist. The biography hits upon all of these moments and interests in Bell's life and makes for a compelling and quick read for a figure we often overlook as just the man who invented the telephone.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Computing has been on our minds for centuries in one form or the other. This cross generational biography of computer innovators starts with a woman named Ada Lovelace, who attended the legendary polymath Charles Babbage's legendary salons where he was building a calculating machine called the Difference Engine. Lovelace also happened to be Lord Byron's daughter and is considered by many to be the first computer programmer.

Author, Walter Isaacson explores how these theoretical concepts laid down by Lovelace would assist Alan Turing and his innovations on the first computers. There a dizzying amount of lone geniuses, collaborative teams and general cross pollinating scientific advances that led up to the digital age we know today. Isaacson brings all of these characters to life as he digs deep into the men and women that made the digital revolution happen.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography up until the year 1757. So it misses out on a lot of the more historical events we know him for. Those including, the Revolutionary War and his time serving in the Continental Congress. Franklin paints an intimate picture of his earlier years. It is the rise of a young man and considered by many contemporaries of his time and historians of today as the first renaissance man of the American era.

Few people of the time or even today can compare to Benjamin Franklin. An autodidact with a wide range of interests, he was scientist, inventor, and one of the great philosophers of the time. The charm of this book comes from the fact that we get to see Benjamin Franklin in the time that he wasn't the famous and mythical man many know him as today. Instead we see the classic story of a self-made man as he faces the tried and trued trials and tribulations of a legend on the rise.

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

Thomas Edison is a name synonymous with invention. From the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and development of the light bulb, Edison was an emblematic symbol of human ingenuity and invention.

Author Randall Stross does not deny the greatness that Edison possessed, but tries to temper the myth and legend with a more sobering view of one America's most famous inventors. Stross pushes forward the point that Edison, although a technical genius was also a man dedicated to his celebrity and branding.

The Wright Brothers

Written by Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, the book provides unparalleled insight into the mythical story of the Wright brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright were two genius and inventive brothers that were the first humans to take to the skies and fly.

Orville was a gifted engineer and Wilbur an all around genius. With barely any money, nothing more than a high school education and no friends in high places – the brothers did the unthinkable and impossible as they learned to fly. Born in Dayton, Ohio the brothers became interested in flight at a young age.

Mechanically gifted they used to make toy helicopters in their youth. When the inspiration hit to learn to fly, the brothers obsessively watched and studied birds while beginning to design an emulation of the flight they witnessed.

McCullough tells the story of their childhood, their relationship to their family and the many early attempts that led to that famous first flight in 1903.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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