Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/04/hitch_sv/
Back from the dead, Silicon Valley icons hitchhike across the US
Believe it when you GPS it
Into the Valley A new, rather high mark has been set for those hoping to secure lasting fame here in Silicon Valley. You have to die, be modeled out of wood, have a GPS device secured to your back and hitchhike your way around the country.
Many of you CEOs and top engineers out there are no doubt wondering - am I willing to be made out of wood? Well, you might not have any choice should Mike Mosher, Julie Newdoll, Jim Pallas and Mario Wolczko hear of your accomplishments.
This combination of artists and technophiles has created life-size, wooden cutouts of Lee de Forest, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, William Shockley, Frederick Terman and Robert Noyce - all considered "Fathers of Silicon Valley." And each cutout has its own mission.
The wooden figures ship with information on their backs that details their goal of hitching-hiking from a given point A to a given point B. The figure of Intel co-founder Noyce, for example, has been sent to his boyhood home of Iowa with the request on his back saying that Noyce would like to end up at the Intel Museum out here in Santa Clara. An Iowa pig farmer has agreed to ask local truckers if they'll help the wooden Noyce make its journey. Spectators can then follow Noyce's travels across the country thanks to a GPS tracking device/Google maps combo set up by Wolczko, a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems Labs.
"We tried to pick people that were really on the ground floor of developing Silicon Valley," said Newdoll, an artist who spearheaded the project. (You can see Newdoll's rather fantastic mix of art and science here.)
De Forest, Hewlett and Packard, Shockley, Terman and Noyce
This particular hitchhiker project was constructed for the ZeroOne festival that's part of the International Symposium of Electronics Art - a conference taking place next week in San Jose. Pallas, however, has crafted non-techie hitchhikers in the past. Most of the creations have gone missing along their journeys.
For the first time ever, Pallas' creations will be trackable thanks to the system devised by Sun's Wolczko. Each figure has a Motorola i415 cell phone strapped to its back, along with a lead-acid battery. The cell phone sends its location information to AccuTracking - a site as handy for keeping tabs on a cheating spouse as it is for following a wooden Terman.
"The commercial technology that can do similar stuff is just really expensive," Wolczko said. "It's not that bad for one system, but when you're paying for this out of your pocket and need five systems, you want to find something cheaper. Also, we were a bit worried that someone might try and steal the equipment.
"Once I found the AccuTracking software, I was hooked. There was no way out. It was all pretty straightforward and took a couple of days to hack together."
Wolczko explains more of the geeky details here. But we know what you all really want, and that's to track a pioneer.
Only Noyce and Terman have been released into the wild thus far, and that's because they have the longest journeys to make. The wooden Noyce is at that pig farm in Iowa, while Terman has started out at MIT where he picked up an advanced degree in electrical engineering.
So far, you can see evidence of Noyce's trip on a delivery truck from Pallas' house to the pig farm in Iowa.
A Noyce guy
To many in Silicon Valley, Noyce was known as the charismatic king of semiconductors. He went from Shockley's lab, to Fairchild and then Intel, mixing engineering smarts with managerial prowess. As Leslie Berlin points out in her outstanding Noyce biography The Man Behind the Microchip, an entire generation of semiconductor engineers had Noyce as their first boss while at Fairchild. Many of these engineers went on to found their own companies - the Fairchildren - and Noyce's managerial style carried through the semiconductor market.
"He wrote personal notes to researchers whose work impressed him," Berlin recounts in her book. "He poked his head into employees' offices to thank them for their work - and said it sincerely enough that one man so complimented compared the experience to 'a hundred per cent raise.' Many of the elements of Noyce's managerial style trickled through the ranks. Supervisors tended to give the people who worked for them a job and let them do it themselves, with little guidance and often little systematic follow-through to check on progress."
Noyce's rather sweeping managerial style, while pleasant, often left longtime partner Gordon Moore to follow through on execution. Noyce would set a high target for his team and then move on, while Moore made sure workers achieved the goal.
Noyce, however, was an engineer before he was a manager and will always be remembered for his patent on the integrated circuit (IC).
Technically, Noyce shares the invention of the IC with Jack Kilby, a researcher at Texas Instruments. Noyce's notebooks seem to indicate that he actually started pursuing the IC route well before Kilby, but it was Kilby that received the Nobel Prize in 2000. You can thank the Royal Swedish Academy for taking its time recognizing this technology so key to today's microprocessors. By the time it got around to handing out the award, Noyce had passed, and the Nobel Prize is never given posthumously. Many have speculated that the Swedes couldn't stand the idea of handing a raving capitalist such as Noyce the Nobel Prize. Kilby was gracious enough to note that Noyce would have shared the award had he still been kicking in 2000.
Back to the wooden Noyce, it's fitting that the figure take off from an Iowa pig farm. Noyce grew up in Iowa and attended the small but prestigious Grinnell College. It was at Grinnell where a professor encouraged Noyce's fascination with semiconductors. Noyce's early embrace of the technology would give him an edge over peers at MIT and Shockley.
Iowa also provides one of the most famous Noyce anecdotes - his theft of a pig from a local farm for a party at Grinnell.
Noyce and a mate "walked across the golf course behind campus, grabbed a suckling pig and ran with it back to Clark Hall," Berlin writes. "His housemates decided to butcher the piglet in a third-floor shower. A frantically squealing animal, intoxicated young men with knives - the ruckus was such that students all over campus immediately knew something untoward was happening in Clark Hall."
While Noyce faced a possible felony charge for stealing a pig in the agricultural rich Iowa, Grinnell brokered a deal with the farmer in which the school paid for the pig, Noyce apologized for the act and both students were suspended for the first semester of their senior year. Later in life, Noyce would continue to push boundaries via daredevil skiing, flying and risky investing - he put some of the first money into Apple and AMD, rather ironically.
Grinnell didn't want anything to do with the hitchhiker project. "These people are so revered at their respective institutions," Newdoll said. "They don't want anything that could even almost seem like an insult or a joke. They would prefer not to see a wooden Noyce nailed up on the wall of a bar."
Before we dive into the histories and journeys of the other figures, we'll cover some more of the project's basics for you.
Many of you are no doubt wondering what incentive would drive the average person to cart a wooden creature all the way across the country.
Well, in this case, Pallas has offered five per cent of the sale value of each figure to any single individual that takes one figure from its start to its finish. You can, however, earn more by sharing - Sesame Street would be proud. "We would like for 5 people to be involved in moving the piece," the notice on the figures reads. "Therefore, the first three people to move the artwork toward its destination will qualify for 5% ownership of the piece. If a 4th person does a portion of the transporting, then the first three people may each qualify for a 10% share of the piece. The 4th person qualifies for a 5% share, but if that person can get a 5th person to deliver it to its destination, then both the 4th and 5th persons will be eligible for 9% ownership in the piece. However, if it takes more than 5 people to get the figure to Stanford, 48% of the piece will be divided equally amount the total number of people it too to get the figure to his destination. Anyone can deliver the figure to its destination at any point. The percentages will then be determined by the number people involved in his journey as outlined above."
Terman at MIT's campus. Pic: John Maloney
And how do people know what to do with the figures?
Well, Terman was abandoned this week in Boston at the SIGGRAPH conference hall. A passerby saw the following notice on Terman's back and picked him up.
This art object was made to acknowledge the contribution of Frederick Terman to the development of modern technology, particularly in "Silicon Valley". We want Fred to go to Stanford's Engineering Department, (Terman Building, room 214) in San Jose, California by August 12, 2006.
Fred is equipped with a cheap GPS-type circuit which permits his whereabouts to be tracked. Please do not tamper or disconnect as this is essential to the success of our art project.
If you wish to be part of this project, add your name and contact information in the space below. Next, show Fred a good time. He's been away a long time. Take him on an adventure, do something fun, snap some pics, or write a report. After you and Fred have had a few laffs, find the next person to go toward Stanford and give Fred to them. If you can't find someone suitable, you can leave Fred in a public place. Using a delivery service, such as United Parcel Service, will disqualify you. Fred is supposed to hitchhike to California as part of our project.
Certificates of shares will be issued after Fred arrives at Stanford. He must arrive on or before August 12, 2006. You will also be invited to an August 12 event in the San Francisco Bay Area as our honored guest once you register to receive a share.
You can't take these boys on the plane either, and, even if you tried, it's unlikely that security would wave a life-size wooden figure with wires, a cell phone and battery strapped to its back on the flight.
Over the next week, de Forest, Hewlett and Packard and Shockley will be released here in Silicon Valley. You can find all the launch details on the main hitchhiker site or by following on with this story.
See De Forest for the Audion
Some Silicon Valley aficionados will bristle at the notion of labeling Lee de Forest a "Father of Silicon Valley." After all, he did not contribute to the computing industry in the most direct fashion.
This import arrived in Palo Alto around 1910 to work for the Federal Telegraph Company. At the time, Silicon Valley was known as the Valley of Heart's Delight as a result of its bountiful lands. Orchard after orchard dominated the area that now plays host to suburban houses, business malls and shopping centers.
De Forest, however, ignored the fruits and tapped into a budding electronics community. Many radio enthusiasts had found their way to San Francisco as a result of the region's maritime traditions. Sailors were quick to embrace radio, as was the military which had bases in the area. This hobbyist spirit seemed to combine with the Western pioneer energy to result in a flood of early electronics entrepreneurs. The traditions set by these folks then carried over to the semiconductor and PC communities that also started here.
The FTT historical marker noting de Forest's work. It sits near 913 Emerson Street in Palo Alto, just a couple of blocks from the HP Garage.
To get a firm handle on de Forest's work, we turn to Crystal Fire - another wonderful book about the invention of semiconductors.
Dial back to 1883,
Introducing a tiny metal plate into the glass envelope, Edison noticed that a current trickled through the empty bulb when he applied a positive voltage to this plate. Electrons (which, remember, would not be discovered by Thomson until 1897) sputtering off the hot, glowing filament were attracted to the plate. But Edison was much too busy with many other inventions and projects to follow up on his find, which he patented and promptly ignored.
It lay forgotten until 1904, when the British scientist John. A Fleming exploited the effect in a vacuum-tube device he dubbed an "oscillation valve" that served as a detector of radio waves. Much like the crystal used in later crystal sets, Fleming's valve permitted electrical current to flow in only a single direction., thereby converting alternating currents generated in a radio antenna into the direct current required by the headphones.
De Forest then took Fleming's invention a giant step further. Between the valve's filament and plate, he introduced a third electrode that he called a "grid." By applying different amounts of voltage to the grid, he found he could control the current flow through the valve, thus inventing his famous audion.
Famous indeed. The audion vacuum tube would dominate electronics in the first half of the twentieth century once de Forest developed his audion amplifier at Federal Telegraph Co. research lab in Palo Atlo. About forty-five years later and six miles away in Mountain View, the likes of Shockley, Noyce and Moore would begin hammering out the transistors and then ICs that would replace vacuum tubes.
The De Forest figure launches from the California Theatre in San Jose on Aug. 7.
The HP hitchhiking way
As HP representatives read this, they'll be finding out for the first time that the Hewlett and Packard figure will be heading to the company's Palo Alto headquarters. Newdoll didn't want to give the companies forewarning about the project out of fear that they'd try and nix the idea. The HP cutout will take off from the printer cartridge section of the Office Depot on Blossom Hill Road in San Jose on Aug. 5, although we think a Fry's would have been the better choice.
Hewlett and Packard tapped into two of the major Silicon Valley themes - the early electronics industry and Stanford University. We happen to have explored HP's connections to Silicon Valley and influence on the region in a a piece last week and urge you to give it a look.
Only Mountain View fans and Noyce bigots would dispute Hewlett and Packard's claim to birthing Silicon Valley as we know it today. We happen to think the Mountain View crowd and Noyce bigots are right, but without question Hewlett and Packard added some power, prestige and class to this area.
It's our belief that Silicon Valley came into existence because of William Shockley.
In 1947, Shockley shared the credit for inventing the transistor, which John Bardeen and Walter Brattain actually created while working under Shockley at Bell Labs. While the nature of Shockley's contribution to the original transistor design is often disputed, his other contributions to the technology are not. A genius, Shockley made key advances to transistor designs that turned them into useful, reproducible devices. He also picked silicon as his substrate of choice and founded the first transistor start-up in Mountain View in the mid-1950s.
Shockley had grown up in Palo Alto and Los Angeles and longed to return to California to live close to his mother near Stanford. Fred Terman, ever persuasive, further convinced Shockley that locating near Stanford would be a good idea since the university could exchange talent and ideas with the workers at Shockley's new semiconductor lab.
So, in 1955, Shockley gutted a Mountain View fruit packing plant and turned it into Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Among the many very bright people hired to staff the lab that first year were Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore - who would go on to found Fairchild Semiconductor and then Intel.
At first, life at the lab seemed to be going okay. The talented scientists were learning about semiconductors and transistors - very fresh concepts at the time for all but Noyce. But then Shockley's eccentric side began to undermine the start-up.
Shockley, for example, forced his staff to take personality tests and played them off each other by keeping secrets between different groups. He also struggled to decide whether he wanted to be a businessman or an academic. Shockley would try and push product development forward and then all of a sudden stop the work to concentrate instead on new techniques or publishing papers. The likes of Noyce and Moore became frustrated as they just wanted to make transistors, while Shockley instead looked past the transistor to the four-layer diode - his pet project.
In 1956, Shockley shared the Nobel Prize with Bardeen and Brattain and his notoriety reinvigorated the lab for a short time. These youngsters were indeed working with a giant. But Shockley's impressive intellect and knack for explaining difficult concepts were not enough to keep his staff happy. Eight of Shockley's employees, including Noyce and Moore, broke off to form Fairchild.
The creation of Fairchild had a huge impact on Silicon Valley. For one, it established a successful transistor powerhouse in Palo Alto. Secondly, the creation of Fairchild fostered the idea of venture capital since financier Arthur Rock formed a unique funding deal with Fairchild Camera and Instrument to nurture the semiconductor start-up. The very existence of Fairchild also made it seem okay to leave your employer and form a new venture. Myriad Fairchildren would break off in the years to come, filling Silicon Valley with semiconductor start-ups. This entrepreneurial urge continues here today.
So, Shockley essentially brought silicon here and then indirectly fostered the silicon diaspora via his eccentricities.
Shockley's lab eventually folded, and he went on to teach at Stanford. Sadly, Shockley's later years were dominated by his controversial opinions on race and genetics. He favored the idea that Nobel Prize winners such as himself and those with high IQs should do most of the breeding, and in fact donated his sperm to the so-called Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. He was mocked in a 1980 Saturday Night Live skit called "Dr. Shockley's House of Sperm."
Nonetheless, Shockley was a true genius, and Moore penned a nice piece on him that you can catch in Time.
The Shockley figure takes off from the Any Mountain store on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose on Aug 6 and is trying to get to the site of the original Shockley lab at 391 San Antonio Road in Mountain View. Rather ironically, the site has been turned back into a fruit stand.
It's hard to find a more likable Silicon Valley personality than Terman.
He started out as a young professor at Stanford and went on to become the school's dean of engineering and then provost. Along the way, he turned Stanford into a powerhouse in a number of scientific fields.
During the 1930s and 40s, Terman befriended many of the electronics pioneers in the area, including Russell and Sigurd Varian, Charlie Litton and Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television. Terman encouraged his students to follow the lead of these pioneers and start their own businesses in the area rather than scampering off to the Midwest or East Coast for jobs following graduation. He would often facilitate this process by finding summer job for students in the area and performing a type of networking service.
Hewlett and Packard were close friends with Terman and took his advice to start HP.
Later, Terman pushed Stanford to ease its financial burden by leasing university property to technology-focused businesses. The university's charter forbade the sale of the land, but the school could let companies set up shop via the leases and then hire Stanford students and share equipment and expertise with the university. So, in the 1950s, the Stanford Industrial Park (now the Stanford Research Park) was built, and companies such as Varian Associates, GE and HP opened offices there.
In 1943, Terman wrote in a letter, "The years after the war are going to be very important and also very critical ones for Stanford. I believe that we will either consolidate our potential strength, and create a foundation for a position in the west somewhat analogous to that of Harvard in the East, or we will drop to the level somewhat similar to that of Dartmouth, a well thought of institution having about two per cent as much influence on national life as Harvard."
That's remarkable foresight on Terman's part. Luckily for Stanford, the university sat in the midst of a type of perfect storm capable of pushing Terman's vision toward reality. Unlike the blue collar, unionized San Francisco, Silicon Valley was full of suburban, well off and well educated types who could fill out the electronics companies here and supply bright children to Stanford. In addition, Terman, who was a student of Vannevar Bush, managed to make the most of his political connections and pulled government funding toward Stanford. Soon enough, the school was well on its way to surpassing underwhelming institutions such as Dartmouth.
The wealthy founders of Sun Microsystems, SGI, Cisco, Yahoo!, Google and many others can thank Terman.
Fittingly, the Terman figure is due to make his way back to Stanford.
"Hopefully, he won't end up being trapped at a frat house," Newdoll said. ®