Photos: The technical history tour

Photos: The technical history tour

Summary: Join us on a whistlestop trip around the places where technological history was made

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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  • Texas Instruments Semiconductor Building, North Dallas

    It's a chip-fabrication plant now, but when it was opened on 23 June, 1958 — by a signal picked up from America's first orbiting satellite — it was a development lab and home to new hire Jack Kilby. And no sooner had everyone moved in, than they went on their two-week vacation. All except Jack, who was too new to have earned any. Desperate to avoid having to wire up thousands of tiny connections for transistorised modules when everyone came back, he used his time in the empty lab to come up with the idea of making all the components in a module out of a single piece of semiconductor, thus creating the idea of the integrated circuit. Forty-two years later, that got him the Nobel Prize.

    Real-life visiting potential: 1/10. The local dignitaries have erected a plaque outside the plant, but the place itself is not open for visitors. And North Dallas is a long way to go to see a plaque.

  • Bell Labs, New Jersey — the first transistor

    The actual labs where Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley invented the transistor in 1947 are some way north of here, but this is much more in keeping with the sightseeing ethos. It's a 60-foot water tower, erected during the building of new labs in 1961, in the shape of a giant three-legged transistor. If an Intel quad-core Xeon was built with transistors that size, it would be around 150km per side. In other words, it would cover an area bounded by London, Bristol, Birmingham and Peterborough.

    Real-life visiting potential: 8/10. (Would be 10/10 for the entire Xeon).

  • 6101 Central Avenue NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Now a veterans' rehabilitation home, in 1975 it was the Sundowner Motel, and the temporary home, according to at least one account, of young Bill Gates and Paul Allen. This was the place where they polished off their first microcomputer BASIC, for the 8080A-based Altair 8800, before setting up Microsoft in shared office space nearby. Although MITS, the company that built the Altair, was supposed to get the rights to the BASIC after a certain amount of royalties had been paid, there was some disagreement as to whether this happened. Gates and Allen won the subsequent arbitration and kept the rights to the BASIC, which was Microsoft's main money-spinner until MS-DOS.

    Real-life visiting potential: 2/10, unless it's been a bad war.

Topic: Tech Industry

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Greaybeards rejoice!

    We're a select breed!

    Born at the end of the second world war into a world of valves ("vacuum tubes" for the linguistically lattitudinally challenged) we've been privileged to live through the birth and the first sixty years of the "semiconductor era" which has not only been the engine behind the "technological revolution" but has also changed the face of humanity irrevocably.

    We've seen the point-contact diode and all the spin-off diodes (Zener, Shockley, Tunnel, Gunn, LED, Photo, Varicap, SCR, Hall effect, etc.) the junction transistor and it's spin-offs (unijunction, Darlington, field effect, MOSFET, etc.) develop into today's analogue and digital integrated circuits of mind-numbing complexity.

    For those of us who made technology of our life, in whatever speciality, it's been a roller-coaster of a ride, we've had to hang on by our fingertips and had to run like crazy just to stand still... but it's been thrilling, breathtaking, breakneck and as exciting and as full of possibilities as a new-born baby... and it's only "just" starting!
  • technical tour addenda

    sorry, but you can't mention xerox parc and microsoft without putting in 1, Infinite Loop. After all - it's because of that company that we are now using computers to read this site!