Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Secret History of the First Microprocessor, the F-14, and Me

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Was the central Air Data Computer the first microprocessor? Well the stories are complicated. In 1998, Ray finally got permission from the Navy to tell people about it, and The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Another ‘Father’ of Microprocessor Wants Chip Industry Recognition.” Intel engineers who share the title told the newspaper that the Central Air Data Computer is bulky, expensive, not a general-purpose device. An expert said it was not a microprocessor due to the way the processing was distributed among the chips. Another – Russell Fish – said it did, noting: “The company that owned this technology could have become Intel. That could have accelerated the microprocessor industry by five years at the time. “But other people at that time also wanted to claim the title of father of the microprocessor; there were major patent fights, and not everyone even agrees on the exact definition of a microprocessor.

“The discussion,” says Fish, who now heads a IP licensing company called Venray, “Is not technical, but philosophical.” Fish once wrote that the 4-bit 4004 could “count to 16,” while the 20-bit CADC “evaluated sixth-order polynomials fairly quickly to move the control surfaces of a winged supersonic fighter. rotating. When I spoke to him recently, he said he had gone back and read the documentation. “What Ray Holt did was absolutely brilliant,” he says. “Especially given the schedule. Ray was generations ahead, algorithmically and computationally. “

The official stories have a way to toughen it up, but notice the very careful language on Intel’s website today when it describes the 4004, that first canonical microprocessor (emphasis mine): “The first programmable processor to general use on the market. “

The device Ray and the team had invented, this non-commercial, off-the-shelf microprocessor, was a puzzled branch on a family tree. He flew a plane that could go fast and slow and fire missiles with unprecedented precision, but nothing more was born. A shiny and beautiful secret butterfly that has not spawned other butterflies.


Ray says he enjoys finding out “what kids really care about.” For Skylar DiBenedetto, it was virtual reality and 3D printing.

Photography: William Widmer

What Ray is doing now is throwing another set of little, individual stories as he pushes hundreds of students down a different path, over a different set of logical gates. “As a robotics teacher, it’s really astronomical what he does,” says Skylar DiBenedetto, a former student of his. Ray and Liz helped Skylar experience virtual reality and 3D printing, and now she’s a recruit to Ole ‘Miss, the first person in her immediate family to go to college, where she helps run the lab. virtual reality.

And it doesn’t stop. In our last conversation, just before Thanksgiving, he describes the after-school program for public school children that he and other contributors want to start after the New Year. He’s wearing a cap commemorating the last flight of the F-14, and I notice the cross on the doorframe behind him. A friend of a friend donated a large space, and he and Liz Patin and a few others are going to talk to local leaders and teachers and set it up. Maybe in the end, he’ll even raise enough money to implement his idea of ​​a Christian-based STEM high school – the sketches of this one are amazing, complete with classrooms and labs. arranged around a central robot competition area. When I ask Ray if it is an exaggeration to say that his job of connecting with kids is kind of reminiscent of how he was able to connect with Bill when they were working on Project F-14, he says, “No. stretch at all. “Maybe they could even have started a business together.” I think we probably could have made some useful products. “

Ray ultimately decided to get out of a fierce tech industry and focus on youth sports, describing it as a way for him to keep a bond with Bill. Unless you follow your passion, he says “life can become pointless, boring, and meaningless.”

Photography: William Widmer

The weekend before this article was published, I find myself lazily staring at the library under the television and my eyes focus on a small volume called James Joyce cell phone. It looks old and I don’t remember ever having opened it, but something is scratching my brain. I pull it out and turn to the front. It’s registered. William B. Holt 01/06/65. I move on to the table of contents. Some stories are lightly underlined in pencil, notably “Portrait of the artist as a young man” and “The dead”. A young man, planning his college debut, five years before a death he could never have predicted, reads a short story that ends with a man wondering about a boy his wife knew, the one who is dead.


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