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Moore's Lore

Intel's founder reflects on the joys of blowing things up

Gordon Moore - yes, he of transistor observation fame - came to the Computer History Museum last night. He sat. He chatted. He celebrated 40 years of being the most famous plotter on the planet. We ate cake.

The museum sits in Mountain View, California not far from where Moore got his start at the Shockley laboratory and where he and seven others concocted the idea for Fairchild Semiconductor.

Such trivia marks just the beginning of the semiconductor history tour Moore and his questioner fellow luminary Carver Mead walked the audience through during a two-hour session.

It's hard to expect much original material to arise out of a semi-staged production meant to celebrate a 40-year-old "law" – one so often quoted and misquoted that it has become a type of IT conversation speed bump that one must throw out on certain occasions to seem coherent or relevant.

So what fresh items emerged from the evening?

Well, one of Moore's most impressive traits as a youngster appears to have been his penchant for explosives. The topic has nothing to do with transistor observations but everything to do with his character.

At around 11 years old, Moore dug into a neighbor's chemistry set.

"In those days, you would get some really neat stuff in them," he said. " You can't get that stuff anymore ... I was interested in the bangs ... the smokes."

After just a short time with the chem kit, Moore started producing "small production quantities" of nitroglycerin and dynamite.

"If you put a drop of nitroglycerin on filter paper and hit it with a hammer, it makes the loudest crack."

Moore celebrated this statement by holding up his hands, proving that all ten digits were still attached, and then blamed his need for hearing aids on the loud cracks.

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