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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Back when Steve Jobs died, I found this quote in an interview with him from 1995. There were many important things that he said over the years, but this one really resonated with me.

Heathkits were really great. Heathkits were these products that you would buy in kit form. You actually paid more money for them than if you just went and bought the finished product if it was available. These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You'd actually build this thing yourself. I would say that this gave one several things. It gave one a understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked because it would include a theory of operation but maybe even more importantly it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean you looked at a television set you would think that "I haven't built one of those but I could. There's one of those in the Heathkit catalog and I've built two other Heathkits so I could build that." Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one's environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way.

I used to do little electronic kits when I was a kid—we couldn't afford Heathkits—and I, too, think they had a profound influence. Not only do you realize that there's no magic in everyday things, you discover that they're actually far more amazing.

I think about this every day. I drive to work in a vehicle comprised of thousands and thousands of parts from all over the world, designed by a company in England; assembled in a factory in Germany; powered by decomposed dinosaurs dug up in the Middle East and turned into fuel by Texans; and listening to songs selected randomly from a library of thousands on a device that is several orders of magnitude more powerful than the most powerful computers of my childhood. And all I had to do was go to a couple of stores and plunk down some money, an amount that I considered very reasonable.

I mean, who needs fantasy or science fiction? Harry Potter's wand doesn't hold a candle to the productive wonder of global capitalism and the power of the human mind.

The other reason why this hit home for me is that I have kids and I want to impart this sense of wonder to them. It reminded me of Richard Feynman's father. We watch How It's Made and MythBusters and I patiently answer their "why" questions no matter how trivial. I am careful not to overwhelm them or impose my interests on them; I realize that this parenting thing is a marathon and I'll get to everything I know and love eventually.