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11.04.09

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Many Circuits

By Gary Singh


A FREE-FLOATING columnist can find the muse in any crowd, whether it's billionaire pioneers of the computer industry or Finnish astrologer/filmmakers who write books expanding on Timothy Leary's eight-circuit brain model for intelligence increase. And in the last few weeks, that's exactly what I did.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View held its annual Fellow Awards dinner on Oct. 20. This is the yearly gala affair where the museum honors distinguished technology pioneers for their outstanding contributions to the evolution of computer history. Previous inductees have included legends like Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak.

For 2009, the museum concentrated on individuals whose contributions have been overlooked throughout the course of computer history but whose influence can now be felt across the globe: Don Chamberlin, a San Jose native, who co-invented SQL, the world's most widely used database language; Robert Everett, who was in charge of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system design in the '50s; and a team of four engineers—Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff, Stan Mazor and Masatoshi Shima—who designed the original Intel 4004, the word's first commercial microprocessor.

Just about everyone who's anyone in the last 50 years of computer history attended, including Moore, Gene Amdahl, Gordon Bell, Paul Baran, Dave House and others. New York Times personal-technology columnist David Pogue was master of ceremonies. Listening to all the stories was downright inspiring. When Chamberlin accepted his award, he recalled what it was like conceptualizing the Structured Query Language back in the '70s. "We invented SQL in a closet," he said. "Nobody cared what we were doing at the time."

And then there's the original Intel 4004. To put things in perspective, these days, anything with a battery or a power cord contains a microprocessor, and to see the four engineers who designed and developed the original Intel MCS-4 chipset was staggering. Hoff, for example, is credited with first devising the idea of a universal processor to replace custom-designed circuits in 1969. He joined Intel in 1968 as employee No. 12. "It was a lot easier to park back then," Pogue quipped when introducing him.

The evening concluded with coffee, cognac and cigars while everyone inspected a brand-new 25,000-square-foot exhibit on the evolution of computers that debuts next year. The only thing I forgot to ask was, "Who drove the Bugatti?"

Just over a week later, at the Finnish Brotherhood Hall in Berkeley, I found myself at a similarly inspiring event on Oct. 29. Antero Alli debuted his new book, The Eight-Circuit Brain: Navigational Strategies for the Energetic Body. The book, his second work offering techniques and practical applications of Timothy Leary's eight-circuit brain model for intelligence increase, is based on Alli's 20-plus years of experimentation with the subject.

Following in the footsteps of both Leary and Robert Anton Wilson, Alli suggests that merely absorbing data does not constitute intelligence. Instead, the data must also be decoded, integrated and transmitted. This is a blueprint for the future, and the book also includes an entire course that Alli taught online at the Maybe Logic Academy.

By sheer synchronicity, the day of Alli's book reading also marked the 40th anniversary of the first message ever sent over the ARPANET—the precursor to the modern Internet. On Oct. 29, 1969, two established nodes at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) exchanged that message. By December of that year, two more nodes had been added, at UC–Santa Barbara and the University of Utah, to comprise what's now known as the first operational packet-switching computer network.

The four heroes who originally supervised those nodes forty years ago were all present at the Computer History Museum 2009 Fellow Awards dinner. To heist a few words from The Eight-Circuit Brain, I am "free-floating between old worlds and the new, guided only by the shinning paths of mother evolution."


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