“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That might be stretching things a bit, especially when the “paradise” in question is in New Jersey, but there’s a move afoot to redevelop the site of the original “Big Bang Antenna” that has some people pretty upset. Known simply as “The Horn Antenna” since it was built by Bell Labs in 1959 atop a hill in Holmdel, New Jersey, the antenna was originally designed to study long-distance microwave communications. But in 1964, Bell Labs researchers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered the microwave remnants of the Big Bang, the cosmic background radiation, using the antenna, earning it a place in scientific history. So far, the only action taken by the township committee has been to authorize a study to look into whether the site should be redeveloped. But the fact that the site is one of the highest points in Monmouth County with sweeping views of Manhattan has some people wondering what’s really on tap for the site. A petition to save the antenna currently has about 3,400 signatures, so you might want to check that out — after all, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Integrated Circuit Manufacturing At Bell Labs In 1983
With the never ending march of technological progress, arguably the most complex technologies become so close to magic as to be impenetrable to those outside the industry in which they operate. We’ve seen walkthrough video snapshots of just a small part of the operation of modern semiconductor fabs, but let’s face it, everything you see is pretty guarded, hidden away inside large sealed boxes for environmental control reasons, among others, and it’s hard to really see what’s going on inside.
Let’s step back in time a few decades to 1983, with an interesting tour of the IC manufacturing facility at Bell Labs at Murray Hill (video, embedded below) and you can get a bit more of an idea of how the process works, albeit at a time when chips hosted mere tens of thousands of active devices, compared with the countless billions of today. This fab operates on three inch wafers, producing about 100 die each, with every one handled and processed by hand whereas modern wafers are much bigger, die often much smaller with the total die per wafer in the thousands and are never handled by a filthy human.
Particle counts of 100 per cubic foot might seem laughable by modern standards, but device geometries back then were comparatively large and the defect rate due to it was not so serious. We did chuckle somewhat seeing the operator staff all climb into their protective over suits, but open-faced with beards-a-plenty poking out into the breeze. Quite simply, full-on bunny suits were simply not necessary. Anyway, whilst the over suits were mostly for the environment, we did spot the occasional shot of an operator wearing some proper protective face shielding when performing some of the higher risk tasks, such as wafer cleaning, after all as the narrator says “these acids are strong enough to eat through the skin” and that would certainly ruin your afternoon.
No story about integrated circuit processing would be complete without mentioning the progress of [Sam Zeloof] and his DIY approach to making chips, and whilst he’s only managing device counts in the hundreds, this can only improve given time.
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Retrotechtacular: The Forgotten Vacuum Tube A/D Converters Of 1965
In any era, the story of electronics has very much been about figuring out how to make something happen with what’s available at the time. And as is often the case, the most interesting developments come from occasions when needs exceed what’s available. That’s when real innovation takes place, even if circumstances conspire to keep the innovation from ever taking hold in the marketplace.
This gem of a video from the Antique Wireless Association has a perfect example of this: the long-lost analog-to-digital converter vacuum tube. Like almost every mid-20th-century innovation in electronics, this one traces its roots back to the Bell Laboratories, which was keenly interested in improving bandwidth on its massive network of copper lines and microwave links. As early as 1947, one Dr. Frank Gray, a physicist at Bell Labs, had been working on a vacuum tube that could directly convert an analog signal into a digital representation. His solution was a cathode ray tube similar to the CRT in an oscilloscope. A beam of electrons would shine down the length of the tube onto a shadow mask containing holes arranged in a “reflected binary code,” which would later be known as a Gray code. The analog signal to be digitized was applied to a pair of vertical deflector plates, which moved the beam into a position along the plate corresponding to the voltage. A pair of horizontal deflector plates would then scan the beam across the shadow mask; where electrons fell on a hole, they would pass through to an output plate to be registered as a bit to be set.
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Anti-Gravity, Time Travel, And Teleportation: Dr. Hamming Gives Advice
You may not know the name [Richard Hamming], but you definitely use some of his work. While working for Bell Labs, he developed Hamming codes — the parent of a class of codes that detect, and sometimes correct, errors in everything from error-correcting memory to hard drives. He also worked on the Manhattan Project and was a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate school.
Turns out [Hamming] has an entire class from the 1990s on YouTube and if you are interested in coding theory or several other topics, you could do worse than watch some of them. However, those videos aren’t what attracted me to the lectures. As the last lecture of his course, [Hamming] used to give a talk called “You and Your Research” and you can see one of the times he delivered it in the video below. You might think that it won’t apply to you because you aren’t a professional academic or researcher, but don’t be too quick to judge.
Turns out, [Hamming’s] advice — even by his own admission — is pretty general purpose for your career or even your life. His premise: As far as we know, you have one life to live, so why shouldn’t it be a worthwhile one by your definition of worthwhile.
Along the way, he has an odd combination of personal philosophy, advice for approaching technical problems, and survival skills for working with others. If you are in the field, you’ll probably recognize at least some of the names he drops and you’ll find some of this technical advice useful. But even if you aren’t, you’ll come away with something. Some of it seems like common sense, but it is different, somehow, to hear it spoken out loud. For example:
If you don’t work on important problems, it’s not likely that you’ll do important work.
One piece of technical advice? Don’t waste time working on problems you have no way to attack. He points out that anti-gravity, time travel, and teleportation would be very lucrative. But why work on them when there appears to be no way to even remotely accomplish them today. Well, at least when he said that. There has been a little progress on a form of teleportation, but that wasn’t what he was talking about anyway.
While not a hack in the traditional sense, examining your life, career, and technical research to improve your own effectiveness is something to take seriously. We were hoping he would throw in a joke about error-correcting your career, but unless we blinked, no such luck.
Hamming’s work on block codes was followed about ten years later by the Reed-Solomon code which is found nearly everywhere now. Hamming is also associated with the term “hamming distance,” something we talked about when discussing Gray code.
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James West Began 40 Years At Bell Labs With World-Changing Microphone Tech
I’d be surprised if you weren’t sitting within fifty feet of one of James Edward Maceo West’s most well-known inventions — the electret microphone. Although MEMS microphones have seen a dramatic rise as smartphone technology progresses, electret microphones still sit atop the throne of low-cost and high-performance when it comes to capturing audio. What’s surprising about this world-changing invention is that the collaboration with co-inventor Gerhard Sessler began while James West was still at university, with the final version of the electret springing to life at Bell Labs just four years after his graduation.
A Hacker’s Upbringing
James’ approach to learning sounds very familiar: “If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger. I had this need to know what was inside.” He mentions a compulsive need to understand how things work, and an inability to move on until he has unlocked that knowledge. Born in 1931, an early brush with mains voltage started him on his journey.
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Marian Croak Is The MVP Of VoIP Adoption
If you’ve ever used FaceTime, Skype, own a Magic Jack, or have donated money after a disaster by sending a text message, then you have Marian Croak to thank. Her leadership and forward thinking changed how Ma Bell used its reach and made all of these things possible.
Marian Croak is a soft-spoken woman and a self-described non-talker, but her actions spoke loudly in support of Internet Protocol (IP) as the future of communication. Humans are always looking for the next best communication medium, the fastest path to understanding each other clearly. We are still making phone calls today, but voice has been joined by text and video as the next best thing to being there. All of it is riding on a versatile network strongly rooted in Marian’s work.
Unix Tell All Book From Kernighan Hits The Shelves
When you think of the Unix and C revolution that grew out of Bell Labs, there are a few famous names. Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, and Brian Kernighan come to mind. After all, the K in both K&R C and in AWK stand for Kernighan. While Kernighan is no stranger to book authorship — he’s written several classics including “the white book” for C and Unix — he has a new book out that is part historical record and part memoir about the birth of Unix.
Usually, when a famous person writes a retrospective like this, it is full of salacious details, but we don’t expect much of that here. The book talks about Bell Labs and Multics, of course. There’s serious coverage of the first, sixth, and seventh editions with biographies of people integral to those releases.
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