By John Manock, editor of SCW

We have been talking about Claude Shannon in recent weeks, and if you have not read it yet make sure you check out a special feature written by Brian Lavallee of Ciena entitled "Ever Closer to Shannon’s Limit."

As we all know, Shannon’s Limit is a huge topic right now in the submarine cable industry, but I wanted to give a little personal perspective about how having studied Shannon’s work impacted me.  The follow was posted on the SCW Facebook page but I wanted to add it to the NewsFeed. 

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Claude Shannon

When I was in graduate school I had a professor, Lea Bohnert, who was a participant in the early days of information research and worked with giants like Vannevar Bush and Robert Fairthorne. I do not recall her mentioning knowing Claude Shannon but we did cover his work in class. I remember being skeptical that I would use it in a career.

As it turned out, I was mostly right. My career took a different path to focus on collecting, synthesizing and presenting information to the end user, rather than information theory. I am more a librarian than a scientist.

But there was one way in which Claude Shannon definitely did impact me. I remember Prof. Bohnert noting how Shannon had the ability to approach a very complex problem from a different direction than the way everyone else was looking at it and then finding a solution that they had not seen but was right in front of them. I try to remember that and use it when dealing with monumental problems like “what on earth is going on with the submarine cable market this time?!?!” When I do manage to solve a problem using this approach, it is very satisfying.

In what little spare time I have, I help out at a non-profit that provides workshops for kids to learn coding and other computer skills to supplement what they get in school. I rarely give the workshops myself because of scheduling issues but I did one in the public library in East Providence, Rhode Island, earlier this year. I was teaching a group of middle schoolers how to program robots and we got to a challenge where they had to make the robots negotiate an obstacle course. Most kids use a trial and error approach that usually results in the robot crashing into a wall, but one kid looked at it from a completely different perspective, experimented with the coding, came up with a solution that I had never thought of, and then had the robot go through the challenge almost perfectly.

I didn’t think about it at the time as I was primarily concerned with getting out of there with the robots intact, but in writing this piece I remembered it and couldn’t help but muse that Claude Shannon probably would have used the same approach when he was 12.