I miss my friend Dave DiOrio. He was a chip designer in the 1980’s, which made him one of the true wizards back then. We met my first day when I started at Commodore Business Machines, though my paycheck said MOS Technology on it.
MOS Technology was the birthplace of the venerable 6502 microprocessor, the VIC video chip, and the SID sound chip to name the really famous ones. It also brought us the TED Text Display chip, a whole boatload of Amiga chips, and several other chips that almost did what we wanted them to do.
I worked with magicians whose stock and trade were comprised of half-part quantum tunneling effect and half-part straight-up logic implementation. These magicians weren’t bound by the number of pins available for TTL logic, not like us lowly hardware engineers who had to string 14 and 16 pin chips together to do any real lifting.
Below the spartan offices where the designs were drawn lived the dragon otherwise known as a chip fab, short for integrated circuit fabrication plant. This beast ate sand and made wafers; slices of almost pure silicon in crystalline form with all kinds of intricate things craftily grown on top of them.
Memory Lane: Touring the Abandoned MOS Headquarters
MOS Technology was started in 1969 by Allen Bradley but only became the MOS that I think of when I talk about the good old days when Chuck Peddle and a bunch of cohorts from Motorola, including Bill Mensch, swept in and produced the 6502 microprocessor, which resembled a particular Motorola processor quite a bit, in fact a lot. Lawsuits followed.
Meanwhile the 6502 was taking over several industries as the go-to processor for everything from medical equipment to microwave ovens to home computers. It was while designing home computers that I met Dave while standing above a chip fab. I can still remember the smell of that dragon farting below our feet… its an understatement to say I miss those times.
A couple of years ago I had a chance to return to the old stomping ground as it were, and set foot (legally) inside of MOS headquarters in Norristown, PA — which had become CSG (Commodore Semiconductor Group) by the end. The basement was dirty and flooded and yet we found wafers, one from one of the computers I worked on.
The ground floor was dark and quiet, I stood at the dirty glass entrance doors looking out at a drab street and I quickly moved on before I got hit by some sort of self evident metaphor for life that would have been annoying.
The second floor was where our offices had been. The hot press of design deadlines has long since left this space, now all there is to see is the golf course out the window and a little camp fire someone had made. I got to show this video to Dave, including the view looking out his old office window, and we both smiled at the thought that it was now 35 years later.
Dave has since passed away, the world has one less wizard and as the video shows, the dragon has long since gone quiet.