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Originally published Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 7:37 PM

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Brier Dudley

Tech Pioneer describes birth of PC revolution

In a speech Tuesday night at the University of Washington, computer pioneer Carver Mead shared all sorts of anecdotes about early days in...

Seattle Times staff columnist

In a speech Tuesday night at the University of Washington, computer pioneer Carver Mead shared all sorts of anecdotes about early days in the microelectronics industry that led to the PC revolution and today's pocket computers.

Mead — who coined the term Moore's Law — told of having one of his regular dinners with his friend Gordon Moore in 1967 when Moore told him about plans to start Intel.

Mead talked about how he later observed the slow, manual lithography techniques Intel first used to create semiconductors in the 1960s. He then learned a better approach from aerospace companies that were using a computerized approach to produce circuit boards.

Later, Mead started a foundry service for researchers to share the cost of manufacturing prototype semiconductors, a program that inspired the UW's new "OpSIS" silicon photonics foundry service. The service will be used by researchers and companies developing chips with lasers that transmit digital signals with light at phenomenal speeds.

Mead spoke at a kickoff event for the OpSIS foundry, which is led by assistant professor Michael Hochberg. Hochberg studied at Caltech, where Mead is Gordon and Betty Moore Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Applied Science.

Intel is contributing $250,000 to start OpSIS. Also supporting the effort are the Air Force and BAE Systems, which will produce chips for OpSIS at its semiconductor-fabrication facility in Manassas, Va.

Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said that OpSIS is "going to train a generation — or several generations — of designers, and it's going to catalyze an entire industry to embrace photonics."

Hochberg said OpSIS will produce its first run of chips this summer and should make three or four runs a year going forward.

Researchers can pay for a slice of the production wafer, on which a number of different experimental chips are produced. Instead of paying perhaps millions for a full batch of chips, they'll pay $20,000 to $30,000 to have their test chip produced alongside others.

"The idea is to make it accessible for the entire community to make these complex circuits," Hochberg said.

Changes at Kiha

Paul Allen's mobile-phone productivity startup, Kiha Software, is going through a few changes.

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Last week, Kiha laid off an undisclosed number of its employees and on Monday it ended a public beta test of its software for organizing contacts and other information on Android-based mobile phones.

Allen invested $20 million in the venture before its "Aro Mobile" application was unveiled at November's Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

The software received attention from national media outlets.

Kiha's chief executive and co-founder, former Microsoft manager John Lazarus, stepped down in November.

Kiha's website now lists Chris Purcell — vice president of technology at Allen's Vulcan umbrella company — as its top executive.

Spokesman David Postman said Allen isn't folding the company. He wouldn't comment on whether the company has been shopped to potential buyers.

"We're going through an ongoing assessment of what the best way to deliver that product is," Postman said. "The company still operates. We've got dozens of people working there who are working hard to figure out the best way to get this in the hands of consumers."

T-Mobile struts stuff

It may be overshadowed by the scintillating announcement of Verizon's latest mobile billing options, but T-Mobile USA announced Wednesday a new tablet computing device based on Google's new Android "Honeycomb" software.

The G-Slate is supposed to be released this spring at a price T-Mobile isn't disclosing just yet. Built by LG, the device has an 8.9-inch diagonal, 3-D capable touch screen.

It's one of the first tablets using Honeycomb, which Google talked up at a media event Wednesday at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

T-Mobile was the first carrier to release an Android phone, and the G-Slate is among a handful of Android devices its announcing this week.

It's also jabbing Verizon, mocking it for offering the iPhone only on its slower network.

The company's position, according to a statement relayed by a spokeswoman's message, is "why upgrade your smartphone and downgrade your network? It's no fun having a great device running on slow network."

That's a start

A group of 10 Web entrepreneurs in Seattle managed to build and launch a startup in three weeks.

The company, called OnCompare, is a Yelp-like recommendation service for rating and discussing software-as-as-service offerings.

"Chief explorer" Justin Wilcox, a former Microsoft engineer who was previously chief technology officer and co-founder of Nimbus Health, set the deadline because he's moving to San Francisco.

It began Jan. 6, according to a mini-manifesto Wilcox posted on a blog, "3 Weeks to Live":

"Last night, my good friend Aaron (Jensen) & I hatched a really solid plan: start a revenue-generating company in 3 weeks.

"The two of us are currently 'in-between' opportunities and decided to make some lemonade. Why not execute on a vision that may have some monetization hurdles but otherwise provides piles of value? ...

"Besides, I'm heading to San Francisco in 3 weeks — let's make the most of my time here."

Brier Dudley's blog excerpts appear Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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