Wednesday, June 22, 2005

He Changed the World

Picture of Jack Kilby with NotebookWhat I like about the story behind the invention of the integrated circuit (IC) is that Jack Kilby did it as a first-year employee at Texas Instruments (TI), during a two-week period in the Summer when most of the company took vacation. Since he was new at TI, he couldn't take vacation! Alone with his thoughts, pondering the impracticalness (physically and financially) of mass producing miniature circuits, he began to sketch out the ideas that led to the integrated circuit. When his boss, Willis Adcock, returned from vacation, he asked Jack to "prove it." So Jack built these early ICs. And a year later, TI announced that they had a "significant development."

Slowly, but surely, the entire world shifted with this development. Integrated circuits (better known as microchips) allowed all electronics to shrink dramatically. Nearly every miniature medical device uses an IC. They're inside virtually every electronic device. And microchips eventually led to general computers. (Robert Noyce, a co-founder of Intel, is credited with inventing the IC in parallel with Jack Kilby.)

Jack built the IC in 1958. He died two days ago at the age of 82.

Photo courtesy of Texas Instruments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Go Daddy

Last Saturday, I took Mia to the park. Some boys were playing basketball, and while Mia went up and down the slide, I cast a look at those boys. All tough. Slam dunking the eight foot rim. I was a boy once, but sometimes it's so hard to remember. I used to spend whole days playing, pausing only to eat.

"Look at me!" Mia will yell. I'll turn to her. She's walking up the slide. Did I ever do that? Now she comes back down. Over and over again. My mind hovers between distraction and attentiveness.

"Let's run, Daddy!" And there she goes, running to the other slide, across the empty parking lot. "You'll never catch me, Daddy!" she shouts.

I slow jog after her, saying the lines that she knows I will say. "I will catch you, Mia!" She laughs and runs. I will catch you.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Les Paul and Tom Dowd

I've been on a little musical voyage the past few days, and I've now come full circle. On June 8, I logged onto the computer that hosts this BLOG. I have it configured to announce that day's highlights in history. One of the entries was:

06/09 Les Paul (Lester Polfus) is born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1915

I know who Les Paul is. He's one of the inventors of the electric guitar. Fascinated that it was his birthday, I googled his name, and read some more about him. One crazy tid-bit: In order to prove which solid-body material had the better sound (wood or metal), he once mounted a guitar string to a steel railroad tie! He eventually produced and sold his invention through Gibson. ("It's terribly popular," he says.)

I searched the New York Times website, to see if there were any freebie articles about him. I didn't find much in the search results, but what caught my eye was this headline: Movie Review: In a World of Singers, an Unsung Hero. The review was for a documentary by Mark Moorman called Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. Tom Dowd was a recording engineer and producer at Atlantic Records, and he was involved in music since the 40s. He's recorded John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Ornette Coleman, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, and Eric Clapton. What caught my eye in particular was that Tom Dowd mixed Layla, one of Clapton's definitive songs.

Without hesitating, I bought the DVD. And during the two days before it arrived, I listened to my CD of Layla (and Other Assorted Love Songs). I hadn't listened to Layla in all her glory in quite some time, although I do catch it on the radio now and then. Layla is a love song that Clapton wrote for Pattie Harrison, whom he was in love with. At the time, she was still married to George Harrison (yes, of the Beatles).

The documentary is a splendid treatment of Tom Dowd's life. It's a grand celebration of his work as a recording engineer, the kind of person no one ever considers when listening to a record. After watching this DVD, and listening to the other musicians praise Tom's work, I learned how important a role it is. It's a marvelous documentary about a marvelous man. During the film, Tom sat in front of a control board with the Layla tracks, and he separated the aching guitar riffs of Clapton and Duane Allman. "Those are notes that aren't on the guitar!" he exclaimed. "It's in the tips of their fingers!"

Tom Dowd's life intersected with Les Paul's. Both had an interest in doing multi-track recordings, and Les Paul pioneered this field. Tom had heard Les Paul's recordings, and wanted to know how that sound was created. When he learned that Les Paul used a multi-track tape player, Tom got one for Atlantic Records. Tom said that Les Paul was mixing his own stuff in his own home-grown studio much like what kids are doing today. Except that Les Paul did it all with tape machines back in the 50s.

There was extra footage of Les Paul on the DVD. It showed him in a workshop, filled with boxes and equipment. On camera, he described his early experiments with the electric guitar, and then proceeded to display his "guitar on a railroad tie." To think that he still has this device after all these years! Off camera could be heard the high praise "Sir, you are the man."

Les Paul was born June 9 and he is still very much alive, making music at the age of 90.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Flag Day

I'm wearing a United States flag pin today. I wore this pin a few weeks ago, at a celebration of someone at my office becoming a US Citizen. I wonder if he remembered today's somewhat obscure and quiet holiday.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Detroit versus San Antonio

The NBA Finals sort of snuck up on me. I've got it on TV now and with six minutes remaining, the score is Detroit 57, San Antonio 71. Since both these teams have won the championship recently, I find it hard to figure out who to root for. I guess Detroit (I rooted for them last year). I hope I haven't jinxed anything!