timeliness of ideas, was Re: TTL 7400's Available

Brent Hilpert hilpert at cs.ubc.ca
Tue Jan 2 22:24:49 CST 2007

Chuck Guzis wrote:
> Apparently, it's one of those things that is periodically "invented":
> http://ceng.usc.edu/~bkrishna/research/papers/RAWCON98_ghzdigital.pdf
> It probably wouldn't do to write the authors and tell them that the
> basis for their patents is more than 40 years old.  When I've done
> that (e.g., "Did you know that your work was discussed in a paper
> from 1962?  I can send you  a copy if you'd like."), intellectual
> courtesy seems to go out the window.  But the idea's the same, using
> passively-combined microwave signals whose logic value is dictated by
> phase.

"Sometimes the truth hurts." If they are applying for patents, I can't say I
see much reason their sensibilities should be spared. In theory the patent
office should be pointing it out but I guess that depends on the patent
status of the earlier work.

> Sometimes it seems that much of human innovation is just a rehash of
> old ideas that failed when the time just wasn't right.

Indeed, in computing it sometimes seems that so much was conceived/imagined/
understood 'right from the start' in the 40's and 50's and has just been
waiting for the practical (machining, in part) and/or economically-viable
ability to implement or make use of those ideas.

Perhaps it's just because I've read some about it, but the conception of
Whirlwind still amazes me. Even with ENIAC barely functional and the first
stored program machines yet to be built - and others just expecting a computer
to print lots of numbers on paper for them to muse over - Jay Forrester went
straight to the concept of digital computing for real-time simulation and control
of analog physical systems, with all the attendant issues of A/D, D/A,
user-interfaces, etc.

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