Invention in America
Michael Hamilton Anderson
My ambition to be an inventor was born in my grandfather’s attic in Sheffield, Berkshire, Massachusetts in 1965. My grandfather decorated his walls with the faces of men he admired mounted on pieces of irregular slate. He told me stories about the lives of these great men, the challenges they encountered in their lives, and the great achievements they made on behalf of society. He was a serious historian and cared deeply about the world and the people in it, and taught me, by example, the value of aspiring to greatness. No doubt he was inspired by Alexander Hamilton, he was a member of the Hamilton Society, an honor bestowed male progeny dating back to Alexander Hamilton, a great American of historical significance.
Standing up for your beliefs
My grandfather may also have been inspired by his parents, though he didn’t talk about them much. After graduating from a Christian University, his father, Rev. Hiram P. Hamilton, became a Christian missionary to Mexico. Mexico was not friendly to Christians, at least in some areas, and many protested his church and his family. Sure in his belief, and dedicated to his mission, he refused to leave. Like his distant relative Alexander, he was shot and killed too, not in a dual between people, but a duel between faiths. My great grandmother, Frances Churchill Snow, stayed and tended to the Church, the only female pastor in Mexico at the time, and was reported to have remained defiant in the face of live fire as bullets whizzed through her skirts. I always admired this kind of bravery under fire. Her mother was Emily Amelia Laing, a decendent of John Webster, the first govorner of Connecticut, from the Webster family of Scotland.
Historical Figures of my youth
Gov. John Webster was my eleventh great-grandfather, with an extensive history of accomplishment of his own. He was a founder of Hartford, Connecticut, and the leaderr of the First Congregational Church of Hartford.
He served the Colony of Connecticut (established more than a century before the United States) for many years in various capacities:
Deputy to Connecticut Legislature (1637 to 1638)
Assistant to the General Court of Connecticut Colony (1639 to 1659)
War Committee for Hartford (1653 to 1654)
Commissioner for United Colonies (1654)
Deputy Governor of Connecticut Colony (1655)
Governor of Connecticut Colony (1656)
Magistrate of Connecticut Colony (1657 to 1659)
In 1659, Gov. John Webster, along with other dissenters, left the church and Connecticut and settled Hadley, Massachusetts. He died two years later on 5 April 1661.
He died 31 years before the Salem Witch Trials, where murderous and cowardly mobs voted their fellow colonial citizens hung in public for practicing black magic. Perhaps this was among the darkest set of events in American history. My grandfather talked a lot about the psycho-pathology of mobs (he was a psychologist) and I never forgot about this bit of history, it was kind of burned into my mind at a young age. Wow, people are capable of terrible things, and I don't mean the imaginary witches or trolls. I mean the people who hung them.
More Recent Family History
My grandmother, Katharine Fairbanks Gulick (Kitty to me), was the daughter of Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick. Luther Halsey Gulick Jr. (1865–1918) was an American physical education instructor, international basketball official, and founder with his wife of the Camp Fire Girls, an international youth organization now known as Camp Fire, as well as the Boy Scouts of America (I was a Scout). He designed a triangle logo -- Spirit, Mind, & Body -- representing the YMCA philosophy. This evolved into the block letter "Y" used in the modern YMCA logo, as well as the Springfield College seal. Gulick persuaded a young instructor named James Naismith, a teacher at the school, to create an indoor game that could be played during the off-season. In response, Naismith invented and popularized basketball. Gulick worked with Naismith to spread the sport, chairing the Basketball Committee of the Amateur Athletic Union (1895–1905) and representing the United States Olympic Committee during the 1908 Olympic Games. For his efforts to increase the popularity of basketball and of physical fitness in general, Gulick was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1959.
The American Dream
The three portraits my grandfather showed me in his attic that I recall most clearly were Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Thomas Edison. After listening to his description of their life stories and their great achievements, I recall that I felt perhaps I was not as strong or as well spoken as Churchill, not as patient or selfless as Gandhi, but perhaps I could be clever, create new inventions, and write patents, like Edison. Maybe I could embrace the spirit of invention and entrepreneurship as he did, and light up the world in some new way that people would remember me for. I was 7. That was my American Dream.
My first big success
My first big success as an inventor came when I was 19. I was a 4.0 GPA student at the University of Nebraska, I was president of the Student ACM, and I was teaching undergraduates how to use the micro-computer lab. I had fashioned a small circuit board with an 8255 PIO chip connected to a 40 pin 6 channel digital music synthesizer, controlled by an IMSAI 8080 S100 bus microcomputer and then routed to a professional mixing board. My friend was a musician. I wrote the software to edit music based on a three dimensional representation of nested hierarchical phrases, kind of like mood music, multiple layers of progressions, he wrote the music. People really liked the music that was produced, so much so that I got to travel with his band and drink free and got introductions to groupies by the band as somebody cool. Me. I was cool. That was one of my biggest successes. You can imagine how I felt at 19, I was a rock star. It was a dream come true. (Click the picture to see Alexander Hamilton's first published work at 17)
Computers of my youth
In my 20’s, I first worked as a systems programmer for the University of Nebraska, and created the software test harnesses for the IBM 360/65 and 370/148 mainframes and attached 2314 and 3330 disk storage to help tune system performance. I worked at HP in Cupertino California as an engineer and wrote an 8085 dis-assembler to support product development and debug. My next invention was a hardware based virtual machine for the IBM System/23 Datamaster, it ran an 8085 subsystem on an 8086 platform (the new IBM PC) by employing an NMI circuit that fired when decoding IN or OUT instructions, and then used software to emulate virtual hardware. I learned about mainframe disk controllers at Amperif Corporation, where I was a senior software engineer, and helped with a key sale of the Amperif Challenger to Chrysler Motors, beating out the CDC Hydra. The test harness that I first developed at the University of Nebraska enabled me to win a multi-million dollar storage contract, and I got to hang out at Chrysler Motors and watch cars built from the bottom up using ray tracer technology. While at Amperif, I had the good fortune to be mentored and supervised by Dr. Walter Tuchman, the developer of Triple DES.
Working with the best
When I was 29, I joined Micropolis Corporation and had the opportunity to work with some of the best and the brightest in the storage industry. I considered myself pretty smart before I worked there, but I met many engineers with skills much better than mine, and I did my best to learn from them and try to contribute at their level. I had a few successes, one was self test, a simple idea. Instead of building external test equipment, which was how it was always done for disk drives, my idea was to write some code internal to the drive and have it test itself, and record the result on itself. Though a simple and elegant solution that was much lower cost and much more scalable, it met with almost religious resistance. I learned first hand how difficult it is to be an inventor when a whole society has an investment in the status quo, regardless of the clear short and long term benefits. But, it got done, it worked great, and everyone got over it and never looked back at their silliness. Some other successes include the first AV disk drive, the first disk based digital video server (installed at over 100 Hyatt hotels), and the first commercial RAID5 disk array, the RAIDion. (Click to see an old article)
How to sell startups to public companies
When I was 39, I co-founded Medea, and developed hardware RAID0 disk arrays for the media market. Medea was later sold to Avid, who previously bought Micropolis AV drives that I developed for all their systems. When I was 43, I co-founded Huge Systems, and developed the first commercial RAID6 disk arrays for the media market, the MediaVault 4212. I had a lot of support from other innovative companies willing to invest in new technology, like Altera, Pinnacle and Leitch. Great companies with breakthrough products that pioneered disk based video and film editing.
My latest company, StreamScale, was founded when I was 48. We have had the great fortune to be supported by partners and customers that were unafraid to embrace new technology, even if licensed from a relatively new company. Some of our notable achievements include being the storage behind the world’s largest sign in Times Square, the storage behind some of the biggest Hollywood hit movies (including Avatar), and the design, manufacture and delivery of thousands of high performance storage systems featuring our NumaRAID technology through partners and resellers like MTI Film, Deluxe Digital Media, Key Code Media, Aeon Computing and others all around the world. (Click the picture to see one of our early installations).
Designing the future
In 2011, when I was 53, we adapted our very successful NumaRAID system to support Accelerated Erasure Coding. NumaRAID v.3000 was a fully featured and integrated multi-node, multi-core, vectorized and optimized storage solution that employed erasure coding for redundancy at very high data rates, much faster than any previous system. We pioneered and then patented the technology behind the high performance and novel application of erasure codes, and In the last several years, we have been granted over a dozen issued patents and over 400 issued claims from the USPTO. Licensing is available for all StreamScale products and technology on reasonable and amicable terms from Bryan D. Richardson, our Chief Legal Officer, at (254) 342-3375, or Bryan@StreamScale.com. StreamScale's on-going mission is to bring new technology to the market faster by licensing the results of our R&D to third parties. We hope to continue to invent and license innovation and advancement in the storage industry for many years to come.
Through the generations
Like any great endeavor, if you stand up and defend what you believe in, if you face your enemy square though they aim and fire with intent to end your mortal coil, your spirit lives on, even in death. Edison, Bell, Ford, Morse, Carver, Tesla, Westinghouse, the Wright brothers, they all faced formidable challenges. My forefathers (and mothers), both spiritual and biological, taught me by example that great men and women stand up for their ideals, even under direct fire and at dire personal risk. I treasure my family traditions and remain in awe of my forefathers, even more so as I age and understand the world. The responsibilities they took and the service they gave to American society have been an lifelong inspiration to me. My fondest dream is to be an inspiration to future inventors, as my grandfather, Tajar, was to me. I am not a gifted writer, as he was, but his guidance and love set the course for my life, the life of an American Inventor, born in Sheffield, Berkshire, Massachusettes, in his attic, when I was 7.
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