Sep 23, 2013

George Gilder on Analog People

Decades ago I picked up a book in the discount bin, "Microcosm" by George Gilder.  I started to read it but put it down and didn't pick it up again for several years.  In the meantime, I had changed from just working in high-tech, to working for an analog company.  Who knows why I started reading it again, but it was interesting this time.  Then I came upon a chapter called "Analog People".
"The first difference is their intense individuality.  Analog designers must learn their trade mostly on their own.  In reconciling macrocosm with microcosm, they cannot rely on some prefabricated system of knowledge.  Neither digital logic nor electrical engineering will teach them how to bridge the gap -- to create an amplifier that operates partly in the solid state and partly in the state of California, that is ruled on one level by the microcosm and on the other by Governor Deukmejian.  It is lore and intuition that the creators of new circuits must learn, mostly by themselves.  There is no mold by which to multiply their numbers; they threw away the mold when they made Bob Widlar."

Gilder credits Widlar as saying, "You can't force linear designs, each one is a separate invention of its own."  By this point in my career, I understood profitability and the value that analog circuits could command.  Expecting to read about Widlar's antics, which I did, Gilder also quoted Widlar discussing an economic aspect of circuit design that is rather insightful,
"There are far better approaches available than directly adapting discrete component designs to microcircuits.  Many of the restrictions imposed by monolithic construction can be overcome on a circuit design level.  This is of particular practical significance because circuit design is a nonrecurring cost in a particular microcircuit while restrictive component tolerances or extra processing steps represent a continuing expense in manufacture."
Invoking another legend,
As Barrie Gilbert puts it: "He understood the medium."

NOTES:

"MICROCOSM, The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology" George Gilder, 1989.

Photo credit: Fran Hoffart, http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/analog-computers/3/156/402

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