Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book: Code Name Ginger

For those who remember the times of the IT craze around the beginning of this century, there were a flurry of reports wildly talking about something called 'Ginger'. By a prolific inventer called Dean Kamen, who had invented varied other things in the past such as the AutoSyringe, the first insulin pump, and an all-terrain wheelchair known as the iBot. Read more about Dean Kamen over here. He has won numerous awards, and made himself a fair amount of money through his inventions.
Back to Ginger, while not revealed to the public, it got an immense amount of publicity, its true character being debated in numerous articles. Praise from Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and venture caplitalist John Doerr added to the praise and curiosity regarding what Ginger was all about. Possible speculation included a device for time travel, teleportation, hovercraft, jet-pack, etc. In the end when the device was reported as another glorified 'scooter', alebit more technical, there was a massive sense of let-down. However, the device, now known as the Segway, is still a technical marvel. The usage of gyroscopes and technical wizardy has almost made this a mind-reading human transportation device.
The book tries to explain the phenomenon in more detail from an insider view, taking us through the development of the idea to the development of the device. It includes the conception of the idea, the meetings and frenzied development and modifications in the device, the discussions with venture capitalists (including know-how about how the venture capital process works), the dependency on an individual to drive the company that he founded. One interesting thing that came out in the book was how Dean refused to give any of his employees any stock, thus no stake in the profits of the company.
The book does go into a lot of detail, so there is a chance of people getting bored (I wasn't). And towards the end, the book meanders into more about the author of the book getting booted out of the project, and hence the perspective slightly changes, and bitterness towards the eviction starts to show. However, I consider the book a must-read.

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