Archive for May, 2009

21-May-09: Distinguished Visitor

May 21, 2009

Sorry it has been a while since I have posted here, I’ve been quite busy with many different projects around the property now that the weather is starting to get better.

On Monday, May 18th, the Old Calculator Museum was most honored to be paid a visit by none other than Robert Norman, one of the founders of General Microelectronics (GM-e) – the company that made the first production Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuits, along with creating the historic Victor 3900 electronic calculator. The Victor 3900 was the first calculator in the world to use “large scale” MOS integrated circuits.

Bob had occasion to visit the West Coast (he lives in Massachusetts) because he was invited to attend the Computer History Museum 50th Anniversary celebration of the invention of the Integrated Circuit. Bob is considered a luminary in the semiconductor world due to his many contributions as both an engineer and businessman, heavily involved in the development and advancement of Integrated Circuit technology.

Bob has family in the Portland, Oregon vicinity, and after his visit to CHM to attend the anniversary celebration, he came to Portland to visit family. I received an EMail from Bob’s Granddaughter last week asking if there would be a good time to get together. After some dialog, it was decided that Monday afternoon we would get together for lunch in Oregon City, and then after lunch, we would go to the museum so Bob could see it, then have some time to talk about Bob’s experiences back in the “Wonder Years” of IC technology.

We arranged to meet up at a restaurant in Oregon City at 2 o’clock Monday afternoon. I met Bob, his Granddaughter, and his Great-Granddaughter at the restaurant. We had a wonderful lunch, with Bob sharing all kinds of wonderful stories, mostly about his days at General Micro-electronics, specifically relating to the development of the Victor 3900 calculator.

After lunch, they followed me from the restaurant out into the country where my home and the Old Calculator Museum are located.

Once we arrived, we first went to the museum building where Bob and his family members could see the museum. Bob’s granddaughter and great-grandaughter took a lot of photos of the various machines, and of Bob looking over the museum’s collection. Bob was tickled to see the Victor 14-332 in the museum. The 14-322 was Victor’s later follow-on to the Victor 3900, using a similar logic design, though the logic devices used were small-scale bipolar DTL and a delay line, rather than the large-scale MOS used in the 3900.

Bob saw a number of Sharp calculators in the museum’s collection, and immediately related stories about his relationship with Tadashi Sasaki, the famous “Mr. Rocket” at Sharp, who was responsible for Sharp creating the second (the Victor 3900 was the first) Large-Scale MOS calculator, the Sharp QT-8D. It seems that Bob and Mr. Sasaki were close friends. Bob spent a lot of time in Japan, especially once he had left GM-e and started up his own company, Nortec Electronics. Mr. Sasaki would make it a point to fly the American flag at Sharp headquarters whenever Bob came to visit. It is hoped that someday in the future, Bob can share some more stories about his relationship with Mr. Sasaki.

After about an hour or so of wandering around the museum, with me telling stories about some of the interesting machines, we went to the house to sit down and let Bob talk about his days at GM-e and the development of the Victor 3900. Two hours flew by so fast that it was almost scary. I was totally engrossed in the amazing stories that Bob had to tell. Bob’s memories of these times are impressively clear, with he recollections flowing as if these events had occurred just days ago rather than 45 years ago.

A great many mysteries concerning the development of the Victor 3900 were cleared up by Bob’s recollections. The story of GM-e and Victor’s collaboration in the creation of the Victor 3900 is a wonderful story that needs to be told.

Alas, the time came when the visitors had to leave. Bob mentioned that he has plans on returning to the area during the Christmastime. I am hopeful that we’ll be able to get together again during the holidays.

As a result of all of the fantastic information that Bob has provided, both through EMail dialog, and our wonderful visit, I am working on an essay on the development of the Victor 3900, and some of the interesting outcomes that resulted from the amazing technology that GM-e developed to make the calculator a reality. Watch the Old Calculator Museum website for this essay, which will hopefully be published sometime in June, after Bob gets a chance to review it.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Bob for coming to visit, to his grand-daughter for bringing Bob out to the sticks to visit, and for Bob’s great-grand-daughter for her patience while her great grandpa and I babbled on about technology.

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