BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
THE ROAD AHEAD BY BILL GATES (1995). VIKING: NEW YORK.
This book and the diskette found inside the back cover are about the life of Bill Gates, the development of Microsoft Corporation, and the future impact of the computer industry upon American society. Gates wrote it with the assistance of Nathan Myhrvold, theoretical/mathematical physicist and Vice President of Microsoft, and Peter Rinearson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. For those individuals whose computer skills have matured in conjunction with Microsoft's ascendance during the last 15 years, Gates' story is a nostalgic journey through different versions of MS-DOS and the PC computer to today's powerful Pentium computer and Windows 95. For young gifted students concerned with computer technology and program-ing, the book will show them the enormous leaps of technological progress made from the end of the Second World War to present times.
The author is an intellectual model for many gifted youth because of his drive, intelligence, success and creativity. In this regard, he says: "When you have a hot product, investors pay attention to you and are willing to put their money into your company. Smart kids think, Hey, everybody's talking about this company. I'd like to work there. When one smart person comes to a company, soon another does, because talented people like to work with each other. . . ." (p. 36). He has helped to lead the U.S. computer industry to worldwide primacy by applying these factors and his practical business sense. He became interested in computer programming in the late 1960s after the Mothers' Club at Lakeside School (a private school he attended in Seattle) purchased computer time for students. Gates and his classmates played with this new "toy," and then tried to change it -- which is the "essence of creativity." His cohort at Lakeside was Paul Allen, a co-founder with Bill Gates of Microsoft in 1975. By this time, Gates dropped out of Harvard to start a company that would develop software for operating the new 8080 microchip produced by another newcomer, Intel Corporation. The story of Microsoft's progress is closely associated with IBM's Personal Computer (PC) and the numerous clones. Gates discusses the history of this mutually successful relationship and derives some generalizations ("Lessons from the Computer Industry") from it, such as the idea that companies that license hardware designs (e.g., IBM) have produced more widespread use of computers, and a company that gains a small advantage can magnify it into a very successful "positive feedback cycle."
The most compelling part of the book focuses on Gates' predictions about the information super highway and other technological developments in the computer industry. He foresees the emergence of full electronic networks within the next ten to twenty years after fiber-optic cable and high speed switches and servers become available across the nation. (The construction of this communications system will cost about $120 billion.) This advanced physical infrastructure will set the stage for transmission of high definition television that can be pre-selected and stored for later viewing, the expansion of the Internet into more powerful print, graphics, sound and video transmissions than currently available, and the widespread use of the Internet for voice communications. Gates expects that his company will play a key role in this communications revolution by designing software for operating the information super highway and offering stimulating content through the Microsoft Network. He emphasizes that no company has been a leader during two successive communications revolutions (i.e., the PC and information super highway revolutions) but he is striving to make an exception to this rule.
Some other technological innovations Gates discuses are the wallet PC and multimedia software. He predicts that a small computer will store personal information including family pictures, map locations, and digital money. It will also allow the owner to connect to the information super highway. Multimedia software will become more powerful and evolve into new forms and formats of communications. According to Gates, "Imagination will be a key element for all new applications. It isn't enough just to re-create the real world. . . .Moving film was a new and dynamic art form and the way it could engage an audience was very different from the way the theater could. The pioneers saw this and invented movies as we know them today." (p. 133). "Will the next decade bring us the Griffiths and Eisensteins of multimedia? There is every reason to think they are already tinkering with the existing technology to see what it can do and what they can do with it." (pp. 133-34).
Gates believes these advances in technology will have their greatest impact on education. Through improved multimedia software and the information super highway, teachers and students will be able to communicate with and access high quality information from around the world. It is difficult to predict how these technologies will affect future societies. But it is certain that gifted individuals will mold these technologies and the information they produce into new types of media and knowledge. The unpredictable outcomes of this new information age should produce enthusiasm among gifted students because of the immense possibilities for creativity and invention, and motivate them to participate in the design and application of future computer innovations. This is why Gates' inspiring book should be read by every gifted student who wants to be a part of the approaching new century's communications and multimedia computer revolutions.
Library Of The Future (Third Edition, 1994) by World Library -- 2809 Main Street; Irvine, CA 92714.
Thousands of the great works of literature, philosophy and politics from ancient to modern times are at the gifted student's finger tips on this single CD-ROM. Some examples are: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. These works can be read directly on the computer screen or printed onto a hard copy. The most amazing feature of this literary collection is the search program that finds particular words or phrases. By entering words such as freedom, democracy, reasoning, and government, the student can discover what such political thinkers as Plato, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson said about these concepts. Gifted Students can locate and collect statements by these and other great thinkers/writers, and they can use the search feature to verify the accuracy of quotations included in books, etc. By combining enormous amounts of world literature with the ability to locate particular words and phrases, the Library Of The Future gives gifted students a powerful tool for increasing their understanding of the great minds of different world civilizations.
THE CD-ROM, USED BOOK STORES AND THE MEMORY HOLE
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"Suppose there were no critics to tell us how to react to a picture, a play, or a new composition of music. Suppose we wandered innocent as the dawn into an art exhibition of unsigned paintings. By what standards, by what values would we decide whether they were good or bad, talented or untalented, successes of failures? How can we ever know that what we think is right?" Marya Mannes, "How Do You Know It's Good?" (p. 183).
This quotation is from a book of 25 essays called Edge of Awareness (Dell, 1966). Even though it is 30 years old, this book has startling relevancies to the issues of our age. The Marya Mannes' essay is a fine rebuttal to the deconstructionists who claim that values are mainly determined by historical-social contexts. There is presently a serious memory problem in American society which is the existence of large gaps in knowledge of the past. A glaring example is that recently a representative from the New York State Department of Education did not know the difference between John Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System. In many humanities courses presently taught at major universities, the evaluation of writers such as Mark Twain is conducted without rigorous study of primary sources, and students base their opinions on current concepts of literary criticism and sociological analysis without studying the main writings of the authors they criticize. They are sentencing Mark Twain to negative judgements based on a memory hole, i.e., the lack of knowledge of this writer's past. He has recently been depicted as a racist and a sexist by many college professors. However, if one checks the true memory bank of Twain's life by reading his works and studying his life, we find these realities: He wrote a feminist biography, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896). He was a leader in the 1900 Presidential election of a group opposed to annexing the Phillippines on anti-imperialistic grounds, and was the author of a scathing indictment of imperialism in China, South Africa, Cuba and the Phillippines (To the Person Sitting in Darkness, 1901). In addition, he wrote a stinging criticism of atrocities in the Belgian Congo (King Leopold's Soliloquy, 1905).
I located the Edge of Awareness essays in an used book store across from Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. Used book stores help to preserve the collective memory of American society by enabling the wisdom of the past to remain accessible. The CD-ROM can be an important asset in the maintenance of such knowledge and memory of past human experiences. For example, a book such as Edge of Awareness can be put on a CD-ROM; not only would important discussions and values be available, but also the computer could add hyperlink functions in the form of graphics, pictures, sounds and video as additional areas of historical and intellectual enrichment. Another essay in this collection is "Alone On A Mountain Top" by Jack Kerouac. He is currently part of a revival of the 1950s Beatnik literature, and he was also one of the finest writers on the American literary landscape. His literary tradition goes back to Henry David Thoreau. A CD-ROM could not only preserve this wonderful essay, but the media hyperlinks could add to the appreciation and awe of his writings. Imagine CD-ROM hyperlinks that accompany the following passage: "For supper I made chop suey and baked some biscuits and put the leftovers in a pan for deer that came in the moonlit night and nibbled like big strange cows of peace. . . .and I could see firs reflected in the moonlit lake five thousand feet below, upside down, pointing to infinity." It is exciting to envision the CD-ROM antidote to present cultural and esthetic holes in our society's memory.
"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?" Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Ch. 1  by Lewis Carroll -- From Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: CD-ROM Edition, 1995.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, Feb.-March 1996