Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Dear Bob: Bob Widlar was a good friend. He was one of the few people I've known with a photographic memory. I was employed at National throughout the '70s, where we were designing a chip that would use an on-chip-substrate reverse-bias generator. Prior designs had the substrate connected to ground. Our team got into an argument about the relative thermal-conductivity characteristics of a chip whose substrate was connected to ground versus one with a reverse bias applied. (I am sure I would have supported the argument that grounding was irrelevant. I could not prove it by theory, but I could by simple experiments! I bet Widlar knew that too! /rap)

No one knew the answer. Then someone observed that it was, after all, Friday afternoon, and Bob was in town and would surely be at Marchetti's, a bar around the corner from National. It was past 3 p.m., so we all went over. Bob was there. We were all digital guys. Bob never liked digital guys, but I had a secret. I offered to buy Bob a Budweiser if he would help us settle an argument. He agreed.

After I asked Bob the question, he did the most amazing thing. He sat back, rolled his eyes up to the top of his head, and began to quote chapter and verse from a 1966 Journal of Physics and thereby explained to us that the primary component of thermal conduction in silicon is the crystal lattice—and not the free electron carriers. It was worth the Budweiser to get the answer. We had some more after that.

Gordon Force (via e-mail)
Pease: I have never seen that side of Widlar, but I do not doubt it. He did know many things VERY well—sober or not.

Dear Bob: Regarding your article "What's All This Credit Card Stuff, Anyhow?" (Electronic Design, Oct. 13, p. 20), I can relate big time. I too have suffered the credit-computer death while on foreign travel. Over the last three years I've made some 15-plus trips to Sydney, Australia, and paid all my expenses with one credit card. For the first few years I had no problems. But now if I don't give them advance warning, I get slammed at either the hotel I'm staying at or some restaurant.

My worst experience was while I was on travel in Japan. I was staying at a hotel in a small town where practically nobody spoke English and they denied my card while I was checking out. After some effort to get a hold of my wife to get it cleared up, I got the same ridiculous response that I would have to contact them directly. Idiots! Who do they think write those checks to pay the bills anyway? (Uh—yeah. /rap)

The only thing I can figure is that some moron in the credit-fraud department convinced his management that if we install this new software, we will save the company millions. Meaning, let's inconvenience the hell out of our customers because, hey, what are they going to be able to do about it anyway? They are most likely on travel—we've got them over a barrel.

I'd like to take this twit and drop him/her in the Aussie Outback with only a pocket full of plastic and me on the other side of that computer terminal!

Mark Miscione (via e-mail)
Pease: 'Zackly. And, carry a backup card.

Dear Mr. Pease: I have had similar problems with cards. The most amusing follows: I was traveling on a "long trip" roughly 200 miles from home and had a gas station deny my card—sort of. The clerk ran my card and the machine gave him a message to contact the credit card company. He called them and they asked him to put me on the phone. After explaining that I was really me (without any verification), and why I was traveling outside my normal pattern, they allowed the charge to go through. I guess that if I were a thief, I would have declared so in my conversation with the credit card clerk and awaited capture by the local authorities.

Eric Bienert (via e-mail)
Pease: Uh—yeah!! I love it! Meanwhile, my credit has not crashed after two months on the road.

Comments invited! [email protected] —or:

Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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