"To some extent, it's an echo of the past," he said. "There are a whole lot of people out there who would like to buy one, but when you ask them to put up the money to develop it, they're not so enthusiastic."

But Russell has more good ideas before breakfast than most people do all year. He's originated 51 patents in his lifetime, and has three more in the works. He also dreams big. He would end suburban sprawl by building a hive-like linear city of lots stacked a half-mile into the sky, looking out onto roadless countryside. Trains running on superconducting rails would flit through tunnels under the city. Bikers, pedestrians, and drivers could hop on and get off at each station.

"Whether anybody would be willing to live in a cave inthe side of a mountain, I don't know. Is it as attractive as suburbia? Maybe not," Russell said. But he counts success not in the number of crazy gizmos he envisions, but in his ability to persuade others to use them.

The inventor of the World Wide Web is a good example: while he didn't come up with any new machinery, he did set the protocol by which this information network is used, persuading "so many people along the line to make it a standard," said Russell. Millions use it every day without a second thought. This might never happen in one inventor's lifetime; if it does, the inventor may never get credit.

When he describes his work on the compact disc, Russell says, "I use the analogy of the Wright Brothers' development of the airplane. They weren't successful, but they showed the whole world you could do it, in principle."

It took hundreds of engineers to produce a successful flying machine, but then, that's what engineers are for. Let the inventor bring forth the ideas.

Adam Holdorf is a freelance writer living in Seattle. This is his first article for Reed.

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