Sunday, March 16, 2014

Some images of Jay Walker's private Library of the History of Human Imagination -- a lavish and gratuitous showcase of knowledge porn.

Walker graduated from Cornell University in 1978 with a degree in labor relations. He quit the field almost immediately, and began making money in a variety of direct-marketing fields. In the late 1980s, he began a direct-marketing scheme in which magazine subscriptions were immediately charged via credit card. He used his small fortune to found Walker Digital in 1994 to take advantage of e-commerce on the World Wide Web -- even though SSL (which keeps your credit card transactions secure on the Web) would not be invented until 1996. In 1997, he founded, which allows companies to sell excess inventory online to the highest bidder. By 2000, his net worth was estimated at $1.6 billion.

Walker is widely touted by the breathless and foolish as some sort of mega-genius and a "master of the imagination". He's a "curator" (financial supporter) of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), the annual series of seminars hosted by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation that has become the "go to" place for imagination, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and more. Oddly, for being such a super-genius, Walker's net worth had collapsed to just $333 million by 2000.

In 2000, Walker began construction on a $7.5 million, 24,000-square-foot home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. (Just four people live in the house.) Construction was halted in 2001 when the Great Recession began wiping out his e-fortune. Nonetheless, in 2002, Walker completed construction a 3,600-square-foot private library in his home.

The library was designed by architect Mark Finlay and Walker, and inspired by art of M.C. Escher. The library has one floor below-ground, one floor at grade, and a second floor. The visitor enters the library via a glass bridge, which lands on the central pier. The pier provides access via ramps and stairways to various levels, catwalks, and stairway landings through the room. The walls are dark, rich wood. Floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases line the walls, and mezzanine reading and access nooks as well as small balconies are scattered throughout the library on all floors. The stairways feature balusters made of etched glass, designed by artist Clyde Lynds. There are almost 200 etched panels, each depicting a seminal invention in human history. Recessed LED lighting fixtures illuminated each baluster, and the lighting intensity, color, and status (on or off) is controlled automatically by a computer.

The library contains about 50,000 volumes (some sources say just 20,000), many of which are first edition originals. A large number of couches, stools, chairs, kneeling desks, coffee tables, lamps, and other furniture litter the floors, nooks, and mezzanines. The library also contains several hundred fossils, maps, manuscripts, and artifacts collected by Walker since the early 1990s. Original artwork -- some historic, some commissioned -- lines the walls. Before a three-story lead-paned grand window at one end of the library is an internally lit, 2.5-ton book sculpture desinged by Lynds. The library also has a state-of-the-art sound system that can play hundreds of thousands of digitized musical compositions (some specially commissioned by Walker).

Among the museum-quality artificts on display are:
  • One of two known facsimiles of the original Declaration of Independence from 1776.
  • The first published map from 1660 showing the Earth moving about the Sun.
  • The Soviet Union's back-up version of Sputnik.
  • A White House cocktail napkin, circa March 1942, upon which President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined his three-point strategy for winning World War II.
  • A complete 45-million-year-old skeleton of a juvenile velociraptor.
  • An 1890 Edison wax cylinder sound recording and playback machine.
  • A wooden sarcophagus from Egypt, sculpted about 1800 BC.
  • A working Enigma encryption device from Nazi Germany.
  • Goethe's 1828 Faust, with illustrations by Delacroix.
  • A first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1768.
  • The U.S. flag flown to the Moon and back on Apollo 11.

The Walker Library is completedly private, and cannot be seen by any person other than the Walker family or an invited guest.

* * * * * *

Walker is no genius. He's a scam artist.

Walker Digital laid off 106 of its 125 employees in 2000, violating a federal law requiring 60 days' notice. The company subsequently paid a large fine to settle tfederal labor law charges.

Walker Digital has since rebuilt some of its workforce, although the Great Recession largely devastated the company again. It tried to get into the smartphone vending business in 2003 by creating a digital technology that would allow a person to pay for vending machine goods (candy bars, cigarettes, etc.) with their smartphone. This never took off, and in 2007 Walker Digital licensed all its patents to another company.

Since then, Walker Digital has focused on casino gaming. It developed a system in 2006 called "Guaranteed Play", in which a slot machine player could purchase a number of slot-machine plays or blackjack hands at a discounted price by paying in advance. It never took off. It sold its patents in this area to another company in 2010. In 2009, Walker Digital introduced a digital system called Perfect Pay which allows players to track wagers, hand outcomes, payouts, and player ratings. It's available only to high-rolling elite baccarat players.

More recently, Mr. Genius has produced income by engaging in patent-trolling -- looking for mega-wealthy companies which have infringed on minor patents owned by Walker Digital. For example, in 2009, Walker Digital sued Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft for various patent infringements. It lost this suit. In 2010, Walker Digital sued Facebook for infringing on its idea for "friending". (Ideas cannot be patented, only their physical expressions can.) And in 2011, Walker Digital filed 15 patent lawsuits against more than 100 companies -- including Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google, and Microsoft -- for infringing on its patents.

Amazingly, Walker thinks the patent system needs overhauling. He thinks "ideas" should be patentable. Uh huh. Keep trying that, Mr. Genius.

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