A member of the so-called “Traitorous Eight” who left Shockley Semiconductor in 1957 to form Fairchild Semiconductor, he and his cohort laid the seeds for what became Silicon Valley and the numerous companies, technologies, and products which have flowed from that. His name is probably most familiar to us through “Moore’s Law,” the rate of semiconductor development he first postulated in 1965 and revisited a decade later, that establishes a doubling of integrated circuit component density every two years. It’s a law that has seemed near its end multiple times over the decades since, but successive advancements in semiconductor fabrication technology have arrived in time to maintain it. Whether it will continue to hold from the early 2020s onwards remains a hotly contested topic, but we’re guessing its days aren’t quite over yet.
Perhaps Silicon Valley doesn’t hold the place in might once have in the world of semiconductors, as Uber-for-cats app startups vie for attention and other semiconductor design hubs worldwide steal its thunder. But it’s difficult to find a piece of electronic technology, whether it was designed in Mountain View, Cambridge, Shenzhen, or wherever, that doesn’t have Gordon Moore and the rest of those Fairchild founders in its DNA somewhere. Our world is richer for their work, and that’s what we’ll remember Gordon Moore for.
Some of the daily normalities of life in the Cold War seem a little surreal from our perspective in 2023, when nuclear bombers no longer come in to land just down the road and you can head off to Poland or Czechia on a whim. Radio amateurs were one of the few groups of civilians whose activities crossed the geopolitical divide, and even though an operator on the other side from ours couldn’t buy a shiny Japanese radio, their homebrew skills matched anything we could do with our Western soldering irons.
The mechanics of a DSB transceiver are simple enough, in that an oscillator and balanced mixer can serve as both modulator and as direct conversion receiver. The fuzzy black and white photographs give frustratingly little detail, but we’re impressed by the quality of what we can see. We have readers all over the world (including we hope, some in Cuba), so perhaps if you know something about these radios you can give Joe a hand. It’s a design that deserves to be appreciated.
Today, it’s easy to take realistic visual effects in film and TV for granted. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has all but done away with the traditional camera tricks and miniatures used in decades past, and has become so commonplace in modern productions that there’s a good chance you’ve watched scenes without even realizing they were created partially, or sometimes even entirely, using digital tools.
But things were quite different when King Kong was released in 1933. In her recently released short documentary King Kong: The Practical Effects Wonder, Katie Keenan explains some the groundbreaking techniques used in the legendary film. At a time when audiences were only just becoming accustomed to experiencing sound in theaters, King Kong employed stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection, and even primitive robotics to bring the titular character to life in a realistic way.
In the 1950s, computers were, for the most part, ponderous machines. But one machine offered a glimpse of the future. The Volscan was probably the first real air traffic computer designed to handle high volumes of military aircraft operations. It used a light gun that looked more like a soldering gun than a computer input device. There isn’t much data about Volscan, but it appears to have been before its time, and had arguably the first GUI on a computer system ever.
The Air Force had a problem. The new — in the 1950s — jets needed long landing approaches and timely landings since they burned more fuel at lower altitudes. According to the Air Force, they could land 40 planes in an hour, but they needed to be able to do 120 planes an hour. The Whirlwind computer had proven that computers could process radar data — although Whirlwind was getting the data over phone lines from a distance. So the Air Force’s Cambridge Research Center started working on a computerized system to land planes called Volscan, later known as AN/GSN-3.
We live in a time when having an oscilloscope is only a minor luxury. But for many decades, a good scope was a major expense, and almost no hobbyist had a brand new one unless it was of very poor quality. Scopes were big and heavy and, at the price most people were willing to pay, only had a single channel. Granted, having one channel is better than having nothing. But if the relative benefit of having a single channel scope is 10 points, the benefit of having two channels is easily at least 100 points. So what was a poor hacker to do when a dual-trace or higher scope cost too much? Why, hack, of course. There were many designs that would convert a single trace scope into a poor-quality multichannel scope. Heathkit made several of these over the years like the ID-22, the ID-101, and the ID-4101. They called them “electronic switches.” The S-2 and S-3 were even earlier models, but the idea wasn’t unique to Heathkit and had been around for some time.
There were two common approaches. With alternative or alt mode, you could trigger a sync pulse and draw one trace. Then trigger again and draw the second trace with a fixed voltage offset. If you do this fast enough, it looks like there are two traces on the screen at one time. The other way is to rapidly switch between voltages during the sweep and use the scope’s Z input to blank the trace when it is between signals. This requires a Z input, of course, and a fast switching clock. This is sometimes called “chopper mode” or, simply, chop. This wasn’t just the realm of adapters, though. Even “real” analog scopes that did dual channels used the same methods, although generally with the benefit of being integrated with the scope’s electronics.
If you ask your typical handyperson what’s the one thing you need to fix most things, the answer might very well be duct tape. But second place — and first place in some circles — would have to be zip ties. These little wonders are everywhere if you look for them. But they are a relatively recent invention and haven’t always had the form they have today.
The original zip tie wasn’t called a zip tie or even a cable tie. In 1958 they were called Ty-Raps and produced by a company called Thomas and Betts. Originally meant to improve aircraft wiring harnesses, they found their way into various electronic equipment and packaging uses. But they’ve also become helpful in very unusual places too. A policeman trying to round up rioters would have problems carrying more than a few conventional handcuffs. But flexible cuffs based on zip ties are lightweight and easy to carry. Colon surgeons sometimes use a modified form of zip tie during procedures.
Maurus Logan worked for the Thomas and Betts company. In 1956, he was touring an aircraft manufacturing plant. Observing a wiring harness being put together on a nail board, similar to how car harnesses are made, he noted that the cables were bundled with waxed twine or nylon cord. A technician had to tie knots in the cord, sometimes cutting their fingers and often developing calluses. In addition, the twine was prone to fungal growth, requiring special treatment.
Logan kept turning the problem over in his mind and tried various approaches. By 1958, he had a patent for the Ty-Rap. The tie was lightweight, easy to install, easy to remove, and inexpensive.
Here we are at the start of the new year, which for the Internet Archive means a note about what has just entered the public domain. 1927’s finest previously copyrighted materials are now up for grabs in the public domain, which means there’s a treasure trove of films, books, and music to freely copy and remix.
Their article highlights a few notable pieces of 1927’s popular culture , of which we suggest you should definitely take note of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis if you have any interest in sci-fi, but for Hackaday readers there’s not much else in the article itself relating to technology. Delving into the archive for 1927 is still a fascinating pastime though, because beyond the interest of seeing what’s now free it led onto what was the state of technology in the 1920s. And here we find ourselves as much navigating the English language as we do the library itself, because so much of what we do uses vocabulary from the decades since. Continue reading “What’s New, From 1927”→