Greatest inventor of the 20th century

Jack Kilby, inventor of the integrated circuit, has passed away. He invented the IC during the summer mass-vacation period at TI just weeks after joining the company and before he’d accrued enough time to take vacation. It happened like this:

The innovation came in August 1958, when Kilby was working alone at a Texas Instruments lab in Dallas. Most of the rest of company was on vacation, but Kilby lacked the seniority to take time off. Instead, he toiled on borrowed equipment and, by September, developed a working prototype.

Robert N. Noyce, co-founder of chip giant Intel Corp., is credited with developing the manufacturing process that made economical the wide-scale production of integrated circuits. Kilby and Noyce bickered for years over the other’s claim to have invented the integrated circuit. Ultimately, the two agreed to share credit. In 1995, Kilby was awarded the Robert N. Noyce Award, the Semiconductor Industry Association’s highest honor. When Kilby won the Nobel Prize, he invited Intel’s other founder, Gordon Moore, to the ceremony as a gesture to the contribution of Noyce, who died in 1990. Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.

Including Noyce in the honor was classic Kilby, said those who knew him.

This Noyce fellow had some good ideas of his own, but Kilby invented the IC first, fair and square. The last project Kilby worked on was the solar cell, and we’re going to see a lot of those as well.

Kilby was a great man, and the world is a much better place for his having been in it.

Dvorak explains it all

Here’s his take on the process by which the Apple OS will go mainstream:

1. Apple releases OS X86 as a proprietary system for its boxes. It’s immediately pirated and goes into the wild.

2. Apple squawks about the piracy to draw attention to it, thus increasing the piracy, creating a virtual or shadow beta test. The complaining is necessary to assure Microsoft that Apple does not intend to compete with Windows. This keeps Microsoft selling MS Office for the Mac.

3. There are driver issues that get resolved by the hobbyists, and OS X86 now remains in shadow beta, being tested in a process that is apparently outside of Apple’s control, but is in fact carefully monitored by the company.

4. Once the system stabilizes in the wild, Apple announces that it cannot do anything about the piracy situation and that it’s apparent that everyone wants this OS rather than Windows. It’s “the will of the public.” Apple then makes the stupendous announcement that it will sell a generic boxed OS, “for the rest of you!” One claim is that it is a solution to spyware.

5. Microsoft freaks out and stops development of Office for the Mac. But in the interim, while not selling OS X86 “for the rest of you,” Apple has been developing a complete Office suite, which it announces at the same time.

6. Spyware and viruses emerge on the Mac.

Sounds about right.

Why India will beat China

The economic battle of the 21st century is between India and China, with the US and Europe on the sidelines and South America and Africa outside the stadium. Mark Steyn, among others, thinks India will win because China is still too embroiled in the fascist/communist mindset:

Mao, though he gets a better press than Hitler and Stalin, was the biggest mass murderer of all time, with a body count ten times’ higher than the Nazis (as Jung Chang’s new biography reminds us). The standard line of Sinologists is that, while still perfunctorily genuflecting to his embalmed corpse in Tiananmen Square, his successors have moved on – just as, in Austin Powers, while Dr Evil is in suspended animation, his Number Two diversifies the consortium’s core business away from evildoing and reorients it toward a portfolio of investments including a chain of premium coffee stores. But Maoists with stock options are still Maoists – especially when they owe their robust portfolios to a privileged position within the state apparatus.

The internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism will, in the end, scupper the present arrangements in Beijing. China manufactures the products for some of the biggest brands in the world, but it’s also the biggest thief of copyrights and patents of those same brands. It makes almost all Disney’s official merchandising, yet it’s also the country that defrauds Disney and pirates its movies. The new China’s contempt for the concept of intellectual property arises from the old China’s contempt for the concept of all private property: because most big Chinese businesses are (in one form or another) government-controlled, they’ve failed to understand the link between property rights and economic development.

China hasn’t invented or discovered anything of significance in half a millennium, but the careless assumption that intellectual property is something to be stolen rather than protected shows why. If you’re a resource-poor nation (as China is), long-term prosperity comes from liberating the creative energies of your people – and Beijing still has no interest in that. If a blogger attempts to use the words “freedom” or “democracy” or “Taiwan independence” on Microsoft’s new Chinese internet portal, he gets the message: “This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech.” How pathetic is that? Not just for the Microsoft-spined Corporation, which should be ashamed of itself, but for the Chinese government, which pretends to be a world power but is terrified of words.

Does “Commie wimps” count as forbidden speech, too? And what is the likelihood of China advancing to a functioning modern stand-alone business culture if it’s unable to discuss anything except within its feudal political straitjackets? Its speech code is a sign not of control but of weakness; its internet protective blocks are not the armour but the, er, chink.

India, by contrast, with much less ballyhoo, is advancing faster than China toward a fully-developed economy – one that creates its own ideas. Small example: there are low-fare airlines that sell £40 one-way cross-country air tickets from computer screens at Indian petrol stations. No one would develop such a system for China, where internal travel is still tightly controlled by the state. But, because they respect their own people as a market, Indian businesses are already proving nimbler at serving other markets. The return on investment capital is already much better in India than in China.

Roger Simon, who’s been brilliant lately, takes Microsoft to task for playing along with China’s new speech code, forbidding the use of such terms as “democracy” and “demonstration” on blogs:

How pathetic is Bill Gates – what a moral weakling. I didn’t realize he was such a coward.

BTW, I can’t imagine any self-respecting blogger would even consider using MSN Spaces while this policy continues. That would be cooperating with totalitarianism, obviously the antithesis of what we are trying to do. (hat tip: Wichita Boy)

Here’s your Financial Times account of the censorship:

Microsoft’s new Chinese internet portal has banned the words “democracy” and “freedom” from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing’s political censors.

Users of the joint-venture portal, formally launched last month, have been blocked from using a range of potentially sensitive words to label personal websites they create using its free online blog service, MSN Spaces.

Attempts to input words in Chinese such as “democracy” prompted an error message from the site: “This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item.” Other phrases banned included the Chinese for “demonstration”, “democratic movement” and “Taiwan independence”.

China: unrepentant worship of the world’s worst mass-murderer; perpetrator of genocide in Tibet and mass murder of protesters at Tiananmen Square; thief of intellectual property and suppressor of political speech.

Who can defend this mess?

High Definition TV Technologies

High-definition TV is probably confusing to most folks, so I’m going to lay out the basics in the interest of world peace and harmony and explain the technologies currently duking it out for your consumer dollar.

First, lets understand that high-definition TV is digital, but not all digital TV is hi-def. DVDs, for example, are digital, but they don’t qualify as hi-def because there’s no more detail in the DVD picture than in a good standard def, analog TV image. Digital TV programming can take any of several formats, defined by their image geometry and the frequency with which the picture is updated. The high end of the scale of these formats is hi-def, the low end is standard def, and the middle is called Enhanced Definition TV or EDTV. Nobody is currently broadcasting in the best format, an image geometry of 1920 pixels x 1080 lines, progressive scanned at 30 frames/sec. The popular formats are 1280 x 720p and 1920 x 1080 interlaced. “Interlaced” means that the video picture is formed out of pairs of images, one consisting of the odd-numbered lines and the other with the even-numbered one; this is a trick that fools the eye and uses only half as many bits as progressive scan. Digital TV at 480 lines progressive is EDTV, and 480 interlaced is standard def, SDTV, the format used by DVDs.

Size and Shape

Hi-Def TV monitors are generally larger and wider than Old-Timey TV (OTTV). The screen shape has a ratio of 16:9 (width:height) compared to 4:3 for OTTV. This is handy when you’re watching movies, but for normal TV programming it means you’re going to have black bars on the left and right sides of your picture. So if you’re used to watching a 27″ set, you would need to get at least a 34″ widescreen HDTV to see an image of the height you’re used to (17″) when you’re watching shows that aren’t tailored for the wide screen.

The main advantage of HDTV is its ability to fill large screens with crisp images that aren’t grainy or otherwise funky-looking, so if you don’t get at least a somewhat larger screen than the normal OTTV screen you’re kind of missing the point.


When you’re looking for an HDTV monitor, bear in mind that very few of them are capable of displaying the largest formats directly, pixel-for-pixel; that is, they’re all capable of receiving 720p and 1080i, but they typically do some image processing to display the images on a screen that has somewhat different geometry. For example, most HDTV plasma panels have a native resolution of 1024 x 768, just like crappy computer monitors. But they have image processing capability that allows them to “scale” 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080 images onto their native geometry. Since the image changes 30 or 60 times a second, and there may not be a whole lot of difference between any two adjacent pixels, these panels produce fine images up to a certain size, depending on how demanding you are, and are better looking than regular TV in any event. But you’re still going to be better off with a display whose native geometry is perfectly matched to HDTV formats, or one that has flexible geometry like an old-fashioned picture tube, because you’ll avoid weird image processing defects that plague all but the most expensive of plasma sets. That being said, this WalMart wonder is a nice TV set, and nobody knows TV like WalMart shoppers.

The alternative display technologies are LCD (just like computer displays) and a couple of variations on LCD for projection TV, DLP and LCoS.


Like plasma, LCD is a direct-view, panel technology that produces screens four or five inches thick that you can hang on a wall like paintings. LCD can be had in HDTV geometries, but some of it uses computer geometries as plasma does, so you should read the fine print. As with all of this stuff, you can pay nearly as much or as little as you want for an LCD HDTV, as these two examples show: BenQ has a 37″ monitor with native resolution of 1920 x 1080 (just what you want) for $2000 at Crutchfield. And Sharp has some smaller 32″ sets for twice as much.


Digital Light Processing is a nice, fairly inexpensive projection technology that’s used in medium-sized rear-projection TVs (typically from 46″ to 60″). DLPs use a chipset from Texas Instruments with 1280 x 720p, so these sets do have to scale 1080i down, but it’s pretty straightforward exercise as each 4 lines of input produce 3 lines of output. DLP TV have a single gun, and get the three colors that TV pictures are made from by shooting it through a “color wheel” that spins at 10,000 RPM or so. It’s a clunky process, but the images are acceptable. This Toshiba is a good example of a DLP set.


Liquid Crystal on Silicon is a brilliant concept that JVC developed for video editing systems and has recently adapted for home entertainment, and it’s my bet as the winning technology in this area as it’s both cheaper and brighter than either LCD or DLP. The trick behind LCoS is that the beam of light that shines through a liquid crystal in LCD or DLP bounces off the LCoS crystal, which gives the colored light more intensity. These sets also use three guns so you don’t have a clunky color wheel, and the geometry is HDTV-oriented and not a carry-over from computers. JVC makes the best LCoS sets, but you can also get them from Philips and others, and the prices are reasonable.


OK, we’ve covered all the new technologies, but what about good, old-fashioned CRTs? It turns out they have a couple of natural advantages over the fixed-pixel-arrays that we’ve mentioned, flexibility and cost. CRTs form images by shooting an electron beam on a phosphor coating inside the tube, using electromagnets to direct the beam, which sweeps the screen from top left to bottom right 30 times a second, more or less (29.97, actually) . They can adjust resolution by altering the speed that the beam travels and by changing the number of times it turns on and off to form picture elements (pixels). It’s not really as flexible as all this at the high end, where a shadow mask is placed in between the beam source and the phosphor to sharpen the dots, but the general principle still applies. And CRTs are cheap to make because we’ve been making them for so long. The LCD companies are having to build brand-new and very expensive factories to produce the larger panels they need at a low cost, and somebody has to pay for them. Sharp is building their own, LG and Philips are collaborating, Sony and Samsung are collaborating, and the Chinese Army is building one with slave labor.

The down sides of CRT are size – they top out at 34″ – and the weight, about 200 pounds for a 34″. Old projection TVs also used CRT guns, but that’s a downer. Good sources for HDTV CRTs are Toshiba and Sony.

OK, that’s that for displays, there’s a lot to be said about HDTV recorders and programming, but that’s for another post.