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Connecting the Dots: My Life and Inventions, From X-rays to Death Rays, by Robert Howard – Review by Kenneth Ellman

Much more to tell than the book reveals

From Kenneth Ellman, email:
P.O. Box 18, Newton, New Jersey 07860

In reviewing this book I should disclose that I personally knew Robert Howard some years ago and respect his accomplishments and his decency and courage as a human being. This is not a man who has much fear of life. His book “Connecting the Dots”, is interesting both for what he wrote and what he did not write. There is no question that the accomplishments of Robert Howard both as a business man and as an inventor are worthy of study. There is more to his work then the sensational stories and events recounted in the book, even if it makes for some distracting reading. His discussions of his personal life in addition to his technical and business accomplishments may to some give a confusing view. But if you can get past the social accounts of silly human behavior (which may or may not be of interest to readers), there are some real gems and insights in this book. Some of his stories such as those of Las Vegas showgirls were not of interest to me. But his accounts of Moe Dalitz are quite different from the classical gangster portrayals. In addition Robert Howard was and is known as a man of unusual charitable disposition who has helped many people in many situations. His financial success has allowed him to reach out and aid many who may not have otherwise found such help. That is a thread of common decency and human feeling that does not shine in the book as much as it should. There is more to this man than the book reveals.

There are significant contradictions in the public reporting of Robert Howard. His book has not brought as much light as readers may hope for on those areas where more of his personal account and explanation could really have shed light on the business world and the world of initial public stock offerings and stock valuations. Much can be learned not just from success but also from failure. The use of the new issues on the stock exchange has allowed many of the companies started by Robert Howard to become a reality. This is common and normal for such firms. It also appears that some of the companies started by Robert Howard obtained temporary stock valuations way out of proportion to the earnings of the companies. Undoubtedly this is again an all too common occurrence in the stock market, which causes some investors to lose significant money. Others who were short term investors and knew when to get out did very, very, well. Why some of his companies failed to become long term fixtures and have in essence disappeared, is a question that could educate many business students and those who follow with interest the bringing of new ideas and inventions to market.
He does discuss such business challenges as shown on Page 202 where he explains the effect of the currency exchange rate and litigation conflicts upon a product he invented known as Pixelmaster. On page 258 he discusses a long used but not so well known practice called “Reverse Merger”.

The story of Robert Howard is that of a man who had a combination of unusual talent and abilities in that he both appreciated and understood many scientific applications and technology, while at the same time understanding the methods of business development, public stock offerings and self promotion. This is a relatively rare combination in any man. The world of science and the world of business and sales are not so naturally connected that many people easily tread in both. But Howard is clearly a scientific inventor in addition to being a successful business promoter. Robert Howards life spans over so many historical periods of significant events that it is not easy to characterize. And probably for him not so easy to relate in a short book. There is a feeling that there is far more business and scientific knowledge he could share than the book reveals.

This work highlights some interesting incidents, both simple and otherwise, that can teach the value of careful observation coupled with understanding:
On Page 30 Howard describes how he solved a simple production problem with the Klystron tube, which was invented by Russell and Sigurd Varian and Physicist W.W. Hanson. The Klystron tube is a device that amplifies RF signals. While it has changed from the days that Robert Howard used it during World War Two, it is still a significant device in use today. During the War Howard was working for a company that manufactured Klystron Tubes which were a critical, valuable and needed component of many of the new technology devices being developed. The Klystron Tube in a different design is still in use today in many applications.
As Howard describes it the Klystrons then being manufactured in his facility were defective except for those produced by a particular teenage female employee. His close observation revealed that due to the way she finished her work and shut down her station, the “torchlike” flame used in production did not go off immediately. The cooling of the materials in the tubes she produced was slower than that of the other employees. For that reason she, apparently out of all the employees there, was the only one producing a working product. This is just one example of how acute observational skills can reveal a simple problem that until then was not solved.

The book is filled with anecdotes of all types. On Page 25, Howard recounts how while a Columbia University student he applied for a job with Sperry Gyroscope. On the application he answered the question as to his religion as “Jewish”, without realizing the consequences. He was quickly informed by the interviewer that there were no openings. He then left that office and went into an different room with another interviewer and changed his religious affiliation to “Catholic”. He was immediately hired. This example of anti-Semitism is well known by people who understand that time and place. My father recounted to me the same problems as Robert Howard remembers. Howard like my father, overcame such overt and blatant discrimination and prejudice. But surely there were some who did not.

On page 193 and 194 Robert Howard recounts his work with abused children and his work with the Westchester County SPCC Police. This was a state agency described in the NY Court of Appeals decision found at 72 NY2nd 394. This shows another side of his character and interests.

So this book is filled with many references to the historical and scientific events and technological accomplishments that occurred during Howard’s life, many of which he participated in or caused to come about himself. His inventions span many years and generations. Keep in mind that Robert Howard was the inventor of Dot Matrix printing among many other products and he recounts this in the book.

Reading his accounts and writing has an earthy and colloquial feel and is certainly an interesting and easy read. I found this book to be of educational value, even with some distracting anecdotes and digressions. The book appears to be written as much for his family and descendants as for the general public. I only wish that a more academic version could be written that could share more fully his significant experiences, knowledge and insights in the creation and failure of businesses and the methods of financing and management. A discussion as to how to approach problem solving and inventiveness would also be appreciated.

Robert Howard has made valuable contributions and he has a lot to teach and learn from. Unfortunately men from Robert Howards generation are almost all gone and that era and people had strengths and a valuable life view that you do not so frequently see today. It is a loss. Sometimes though books can pass on a little bit of the reality and values of the past and it is hoped that additional writing may yet come from Howard.
Kenneth Ellman, Box 18, Newton, New Jersey 07860, email: