Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Gutenberg would fit in Silicon Valley


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Have you ever stopped to ponder what Gutenberg would have thought of e-readers like the Nook, Kindle and iPad?

I think it’s a safe bet that the high-tech entrepreneur who invented the printing press 470 years ago would be dumbfounded if I could lend him my Kindle Touch today. As soon as he recovered his poise, Gutenberg probably would have tried to take my Kindle apart to find out how its maker stuffed all of those tiny pieces of movable metal type into such a slim little box.

I spent part of the weekend contemplating Gutenberg’s role in launching modern mass media after reading a Kindle Single — call it an essay — “Gutenberg the Geek” by Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York.

Jarvis calls Gutenberg the world’s first technology entrepreneur and observes that the parallels between the struggle he went through to perfect the technology of printing and the travails of Silicon Valley startups today are remarkable.

Like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Gutenberg struggled to raise capital and build a team. And he had a hard time monetizing his books at first, which led to him losing his company to a shrewd investor.

Johannes Gutenberg virtually invented mass communication in 1540. You probably already know that by adapting presses originally meant for other purposes and devising a way to manufacture large numbers of individual metal letters, Gutenberg moved books into the era of mass production. Bibles that previously were painstakingly hand-lettered by scribes could suddenly be printed in large numbers.

Ultimately, it was the way Gutenberg’s printing press transformed society that mattered most. Luther’s religious reformation that took hold in Germany was dependent on his ability to publish his manifestos for mass consumption.

In the same vein, Jarvis writes, the printing press helped enable the rise of modern science, created new professions and even changed the way we retain knowledge.

We believe that the current explosion of information technology is transforming our world at a rate that is difficult to assimilate. But Jarvis cites scholars who believe it took 50 years before the full effect of Gutenberg’s press and the era of mass production of books took hold on society.

From that, we can conclude that the revolution has just begun and the changes we are trying to come to terms with in the early part of this decade will only accelerate in the next few decades.

You can purchase Google ebooks through Off the Beaten Path Bookstore’s website, and you can get assistance in downloading and borrowing library books for free at Bud Werner Memorial Library. You also can use the Nook at Barnes & Noble or the Kindle at Amazon.

Next up? I want to read Jarvis’ full-length book, “Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Nice article, Tom, but I might pick another next book, myself. Bus man's vacation, you know? I do Digital Age all day long.

By the time it's in print it's obsolete anyway; the Net is the only way to keep up with the latest technology. Not to say Gutenberg didn't play a vital role in the evolution thereof.

All progress is born of laziness -- there's GOT to be a better way -- which can lead to SO MUCH WORK, quite incidentally... (right after many naps)

Which is why I prefer my leisure reading to be stuff that ages well, in ANY unrelated field, fiction, but not Clancy, pretentious blowhard techno idiot that he is. My opinion.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Gutenberg was an inventor and businessman that took investment capital. In a superficial sense that is similar to Silicon Valley, but that is really just the business model of inventors for centuries.

What really make Silicon Valley unique is Moore's Law (actually an observation, not a law) that presumes a doubling of chip power every 18 months. Which means every company starts designing a product expecting the finished product to be using hardware that currently is only on the drawing board in some other company. But the brilliance and power of Moore's Law is that the product designers know what to expect in a year or two. So product prototypes will be almost comical monstrosities that the hardware sourcing and design staff promise will become a sleek device.

So Apple's Retina display is not some fortuitous invention, but a couple years ago was a realization of what is possible and so gave Apple the opportunity to promise to buy millions from the manufacturer that invested to build that display.

And so unlike Gutenberg's printing press which happened to be an invention that changed the world, current Silicon Valley is literally investing tens of billions on the expectation of a doubling of chip power every 18 months. It is an inexorable gears of progress at a speed probably unique in human history.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

So it fundamentally misses the awesome power of the gears of progress spinning so quickly by Silicon Valley to view it from a perspective of changes on mass media. That is like considering the importance of the Iron Age by examining how it improved axes and changed the lumber industry.

The underlying power of tech progress is that there are generation after generation after generation of devices twice as powerful as the previous generation. That recent devices happen to affect mass media is interesting, but it is just one type of new device that can be made. Mass media companies will continue to have to adjust to a rapidly changing world or they will be replaced by those that are adapting better.

But the big story in a few years will not be how tech is affecting mass media, but now how tech is affecting something else. Just as how tech completely changed the travel agency business is no longer talked about because it is now an old story. The tech that so changed the travel industry was the web and is no longer leading edge technology. Just as now the technical capability of devices to so drastically affect mass media companies has occurred. The story of tech and mass media is no longer a story of tech. Instead it is now a story of how this or that company now deals with the consumer and how new innovative companies drive change in existing companies.

The next story with tech is what is the next industry to have its existing business model be cut to shreds. Will it be the real estate realtor world that is blown up by a buyer app more useful at looking at properties than any agent that then works with a seller's app to close the purchase? Will it be a medical diagnostic app that basically removes the need for a doctor to determine a person's medical issues? Will having your personal assistance app off be as strange as living without electricity? Who knows, but the gears are grinding away and they are progressing forward not focused on mass media devices, but to make devices even so more computationally powerful. So that programmers can take programs that once required a supercomputer and put them on your personal device.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Scott, Scott... who threw your stick in my yard? While I have adopted a policy of ignoring your voluminous meanderings, as I have only so much life to waste on inanity, in this case I will respond to your questions, because we're where I live now.

I think the next killer "app" (that word so cheapens the concept) will be industrial-construction related. Currently the contractors are WAY overpricing the insulation on power plants and oil refineries, as they have no accurate production indicators, so they pad their bids on the high side to save their shorts. The resulting economic stress is bankrupting countries. I plan to change all that. If they just had access to Dad's complete set of labor rates, THAT could win them some work and trim the fat. Problem is, it's still somewhat inaccessible, tucked safely away in Linux on my server at GoDaddy. How to avail my WIndows prospects with this capability...

The essence of the problem is transcription. At this point the end user must manually enter, or copy-and-paste, up to thousands of individual numbers, from their takeoff into my software. I need to automate that process. Today's keyfolks want to point-and-click once or twice -- nobody is going to take the extra time for such a rote activity, even given vastly greater results, when there are easier alternatives available.

That will involve taking the output from one of several fine CAD systems running on my user's Windows machine in Podunk Arkansas -- converting it into Excel for transport via HTTP into my Linux software in Phoenix (Scottsdale) (GoDaddy) for conversion into MySQL tables where my PHP can manupilate it. And that's the EASY part. The trick is going to be incorporating material suppliers' price tables into component packages and assemblies on the users' side, as they come in no consistent format. That means I have to convert selected ranges at a time, but there is no indicator what type of table this is -- two manufacturers per line or one? how big will this one get? why don't all sizes have prices? -- making this procedure extra-daunting. I haven't found the solution yet, and I won't squabbling in here. Only then will the free-world economy survive.

That's why I have little time for long-winded essays pontificating on progress and the evolution of technology -- that's been kicking my butt for well over 35 years, and the fight ain't over yet. It won't be until my Buddy flaps his wings and flies on his own, and 'til then: You want fries with that?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Rhys, You criticize my posts and then write that the next "killer app" will address the problem of "WAY overpricing insulation on power plants and oil refineries"?


jerry carlton 4 years, 9 months ago

Rhys You know I enjoy conversing with you on line. Scott I keep asking you what your background is. Both of you gave me a headache with this discussion.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Scott -- Yeah I'm part of the solution, not part of the problem. The alternatives are that or the bridge. If I had not Angels who yet believe in me, I could not converse with you so affably. My Plan would fail, or suffer serious setbacks. Nobody wants to hear my bar talk; it's too boring. Another would-be might-be maybe. But I know computer code.

Oh by the way -- what do you do?

Jerry -- Hi Buddy!! Yeah yer my buddy too -- I like the cut of your jib. I'm a unique combination of conservative and liberal. Don't pay no mind to Scott, pretentious blowhard bored individual that he must be.

I've got a LIFE to live, and it ain't started YET!! Well, maybe a little...


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Jerry, Majored in math while taking CIS. Worked in SJ for a networking company that eventually became part of Worldcom. Moved to SB in 92. Got laid off since they shut down our network when WCOM collapsed. Was a star programmer/analyst since I could completely understand large programs and add functionality while repairing poorly added features and improve performance. Had bought rental property prior to then.

Rhys, Your app certainly can be a useful niche app, but that is too particular of an app to be comparable to the tech driven changes in mass media.

Just curious why you don't see your app as a autocad plugin? That would seem to avoid the transcription and data importation issues. And you can then apply your dad's data to create a better project estimate sheet.

I was not criticizing your app, just saying it was too particular to have the sort of mass appeal to be a killer app.

I'll predict that next 5 years that we will see tech eliminating 50% of real estate agents. Some will probably be replaced with property closing services that for a fixed fee ($500?) helps both parties proceed through the closing

I think in 10 years that we will have something like a chest patch that will tell you not just whether you have heart disease, but whether you are sick with any particular virus or bacteria and even whether you have cancer. In labs they are playing around with that sort of stuff. Another decade's improvement in sensor and image processing to accurately identify molecules will make that a viable product.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Scott -- Okay, so you might know what you're talking about. In response to your Autocad plugin suggestion, I make my own problems there. I am extremely paranoid about my Dad's production figures, am afraid of those getting pirated -- and once that horse gets out of the pen, my market value goes DOWN -- hence I don't sell software -- users don't get a CD or anything to put on their computer. I lease services, and everything resides on my server (GoDaddy). Users can log in to their account from anywhere in the world -- I just picked up a new client in Kuwait. But I escape any data- or program-exportation legalities because I export nothing; everything happens in Arizona. My numbers are well-buried in Linux, and it would take quite the hacker to purloin them now -- and they would leave tracks in the access logs and Analytics, making it easy to backtrack. GoDaddy runs a good show.

My proposed changes would involve users doing their CAD on their Windows machines, then zapping the results to me at GoDaddy for further processing and reporting. So I make my own problems there, a necessary evil.

And I was just kidding about the world-importance of my software; of course it is a niche market. But I still dream of the day every housewife in America is bidding power plants from the breakfast nook -- THEN I might be bigger than Bill!!


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

And Scott -- with reference to where the industry is going -- here is where I'd like to see it go -- but first a word of explanation is in order:

When I saw my first production Univac 1500 -- CPU big as a refrigerator, flashing lights on the front, 5K core storage -- that's BITS -- play songs on a transistor radio it was not connected to in any way -- all of a sudden a lot of pieces fell together for me. Explaining ESP along the way, and opening a world of possibilities.

Many people know about the implied electromagnetic field surrounding and associated with the flow of electricity. The brilliant programmers who wrote the songs programs were aware of them too, and that their concentrated presence in close proximity would actually excite each other to where they were actually BROADCASTING -- and by controlling the instructions, durations, etc etc, they could change the frequency, producing notes and songs.

That was a 5K second-generation computer -- nothing close to what exists today -- and not even in the same league as the most efficient storage medium known: The Human Brain. While minute in strength, the neural impulses which control our lives are also electrical in nature -- hence -- we are all broadcasting!! All the time. The signal may be weak, but it's there. Vibes, karma, even ESP for those closely aligned,

So we've got this great storage medium -- Science has mimicked it with an agar, or gel -- the problem is addressing all the new storage available, at its minute level, the precision necessary, targets REALLY TINY. When they figure this out and nail it down (making nano technologies fascinating) think of the possibilities:

So you install a plug, right behind the ear, hook up the wires inside... then say you want to learn French. You plug on end of the cable in to a USB port on your PC or Mac (or Linux, for the real cool guys) the other end in to your head, click "Start" and in two minutes you know French!!

Or we get the Manimal to have sex with Anna Kornikova and record the experience -- but that one goes on a pay site!!

This is a field I WISH I could explore in a real way!!


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

GoDaddy? Srsly?

As an 18-year industry vet, and former customer of theirs, I can't recommend strongly enough against GoDaddy webhosting. If their recurring ethical lapses aren't enough to persuade by themselves, they do paint a big target for the hackers who object. The initial response is always to blame the customers, but even when GoDaddy does admit to not being blameless after all, they hardly go around refunding the $150 they charge customers to fix their hacked accounts (many webhosts don't charge for this to begin with).

It doesn't matter how good you are at security. On shared hosting, you can count on someone on your server having an exploitable weakness, then your PHP scripts get hacked, too. Just the nature of the beast. The best way to avoid this, is literally to avoid GoDaddy. Even if their response to these incidents (and their system in general) didn't suck, you can count on further ethical lapses leading to further massive hack/DoS attacks, as we recently saw with GoDaddy's support for SOPA.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Eric -- Sorry to hear you had a negative experience at GoDaddy. I have not had the misfortune.

Just to qualify myself, the Marines shoved COBOL down my throat in 1974, however many years that is. Since then I have concentrated on business applications, security somewhat down on the list -- so MANY areas to specialize, and my guys' numbers most important of all. If I have learned one thing, security is a cat-and-mouse game; as soon as one hole is fixed, another is found. The best you can do is keep your software and protection devices updated regularly, to thwart the latest round of attacks. It helps to host in Linux, as most viruses target Windows.

Along those lines, thank you for the reminder -- GoDaddy sent me a notice the other day, there is a new WordPress version out, so I just now updated all my sites. I just updated my home Linux hours ago, and I have to assume GoDaddy does the same.

My previous server was called JaguarPC with a very American-looking storefront, but I soon came to the conclusion they were in India, as all my contacts were named Sahib or the like, and they wouldn't answer my emails for at least 12 hours -- no phone support. My website would drop off the air, for no apparent reason, who knows how long it sat that way, until I tried it myself, then had to manually restart it by jumping through sysadmin hoops, that happened often... then they sent me notice, about all these suspicious attacks on my site, so I peeked in the access logs and did whois on who I found -- no rhyme, no reason -- then when I couldn't surf myself again, I said ENOUGH. This is Dad's estimating system -- GoDaddy it is.

I have NEVER since had an issue loading any of my sites. When I call for support, they answer within minutes, and it is always my fault, untimately. I hope I don't have to bother them with my DNS concerns again, hoping I've got that dogie roped.

Sure, I could be hacked, if there is someone out there both with the wherewithal, and the incentive. I just do what I can, and pray it's the right thing. And I like GoDaddy.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 9 months ago

"Sure, I could be hacked, if there is someone out there both with the wherewithal, and the incentive."

You're missing the point. The nature of hack attacks against GoDaddy is to compromise one account on a shared host, then use that account to hack everyone else (1,000's) on that server. YOU don't HAVE to be the target. Most hosts aren't set up where this is even possible. GoDaddy's platform, otoh... Plenty of hackers out there have the wherewithal, GoDaddy's behavior provides ongoing incentive, and their ineptitude makes them anything but a hard target.

Personally, I never had a problem with GoDaddy, other than their platform sucking as compared to most anyone else's. My cancellation was a direct result of their being caught using paid shills to bid up their own domain auctions. I almost bought camshafts for my project Prelude from just as despicable a company recently -- until they went and put out a $5,000 apiece bounty for the identity of two of its customers, who exposed a flawed camshaft design on YouTube. They've since redesigned the camshaft...

In GoDaddy's case, the elephant snuff film and other shenanigans merely confirm my good sense in cancelling their service on ethical grounds. And also confirm the old adage, "sex sells." If you won't change hosts, hopefully my warning keeps at least one person who reads this thread away from bad webhosting on an epic scale.

I've been setting up all my clients with for 12 years, their only downtime was on 9/11/01. Since then, emergency planning prioritizes fuel tankers; on 9/11 they were blocked and everyone's backup generators ran out of fuel, not just NYI's. Despite being a good-sized company, you won't find warnings against them plastered all over the Web, hardly a second of downtime, consistently the fastest response times, no horror stories about server-wide hacks even when customers are using outdated software, no headline-making ethical lapses, simply no shenanigans.

"It helps to host in Linux, as most viruses target Windows."

Note how I'm using exactly the same logic as reason to avoid GoDaddy... drops the likelihood of your site's PHP getting hacked by an order of magnitude. NYI uses FreeBSD, which drops the likelihood of getting hacked by another order of magnitude. I sysadmin my own FreeBSD webserver, never been hacked and I assure you it's been tried many times, as I'm quite opinionated, and run in HTTP/REST circles.

NYI may look more expensive, but think how much it costs your business when your website starts redirecting your customers to malware-infected "antivirus" sites which use your browser to progressively destroy your operating system, just by visiting. Even on Mac and Linux. Your antivirus software most likely won't notice, or be able to remove the latest nasties -- google up "bamital" for example.

Plus, when you need phone support, they answer "New Yawk Intanet" and you just know you aren't talking to someone in Asia.


rhys jones 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm squabbling with a person from another country right now about my Skype account -- "check if it is already activate?" No dummy, did my last payment take before you shut me off in 2 days. They're idiots.

I'll look into NYI when I can afford it -- right now I'm chasing an ugly space which appeared at the top of my forms, through CSS, WordPress theme options, my source PHP's, to no avail yet. Maybe that's why the new prospect in Alberta is viewing lots of pages, but not calling me yet. GoDaddy represents the least of my problems right now.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.