Vintage Posters Highlight a Century of Innovation

It may be hard to believe as you read Wired on your iPad, but heating oil and metal plumbing pipes were hot tech topics just 100 years ago.

They were businesses, too, on which inventors pinned their hopes and corporations placed their bets in the form of factories, salesmen, and marketing budgets.

For a peek inside 100 years of cutting-edge inventions, take a look at this gallery of 20th-century advertisements. They show how products that we take for granted today, like bicycles, electric trains and radios, were once strange and wonderful enough that they needed bold, artistic introductions.

The posters, from an upcoming exhibition by the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association, show a century of massive change in technology, from plumbing to iPods. They also provide a glimpse of changing design trends: Bare-breasted beauties gave way to stark abstractions, which were succeeded by eye-catching color photos, which were replaced with primary-color silhouettes.

For more images and background, see the online  exhibit, titled “Innovations in Technology: From the Turn of the Century to Today.”

full story: Vintage Posters Highlight a Century of Innovation | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Vintage Posters Highlight a Century of Innovation

A Chip Is Born: Inside a State-of-the-Art Clean Room

If you wish to compose an e-mail, index a database of web pages, stream a kitten video in 720p or render an explosion at 60 frames per second, you must first build a computer.

And to build a computer, you must first design and fabricate the tiny processors that rapidly churn through the millions of discrete computational steps behind every one of those digital actions, taking a new step approximately 3 billion times per second.

To do all this, you are probably going to need chip-manufacturing machines from Applied Materials, one of the main suppliers of such equipment to the semiconductor industry.

Applied’s machines subject silicon wafers (such as the Intel wafer shown below) to incredibly intense vacuums, caustic chemical baths, high-energy plasmas, intense ultraviolet light, and more, taking the wafers through the hundreds of discrete manufacturing steps required to turn them into CPUs, memory chips and graphics processors.

Because those processes aren’t exactly friendly to humans, much of this work happens inside sealed chambers where robot arms move the wafers from one processing station to another. The machines themselves are housed within clean rooms whose scrubbed air (and bunny-suited employees) keep the risk of aerial contamination low: A single dust particle from your hair is all it takes to ruin a CPU that might sell for $500, so companies are eager to minimize how often that happens.

Wired/com recently toured Applied Materials’ Maydan Technology Center, a state-of-the-art clean room in Santa Clara, California, where Applied develops and tests its machines.

Its 39,000 square feet of ultraclean workspace equals about 81 yards of a football field, and is divided into three huge “ballrooms,” each of which is crammed full of Applied’s multimillion-dollar machines, alongside pipes, tubes, spare parts, tanks of caustic chemicals, Craftsman tool chests and huge racks of silicon wafers. To get inside, you must suit up in a bunny suit, with a face mask and goggles, two pairs of gloves, and shoe-covering footies. We couldn’t even take a reporter’s notebook inside: Instead, Applied’s staff gave us a shrink-wrapped, specially sanitized clean-room notebook and clean-room pen to use.

It’s not a manufacturing facility. Instead, this clean room simulates the fabs where Applied’s machines will be used, enabling the company (and its customers) to test out new techniques and processes before putting them on the production line. As such, it provides a rare glimpse inside the world of cutting-edge semiconductor manufacturing.

Photo Gallery: A Chip Is Born: Inside a State-of-the-Art Clean Room | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

A Chip Is Born: Inside a State-of-the-Art Clean Room

Big Money in Journalism

I’ll admit it: I got into journalism for the money.

Columbia Journalism School dean Nicholas Lemann has said: “I’ve never met a single person in 35 years who went into journalism out of pure economic reason.”

He never met me. While my motivation wasn’t purely financial, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the primary reason I chose journalism instead of, say, trying to make my way as, say, a poet or a professor of religious studies.

I had just graduated from college with an interesting but totally impractical major in what amounted to postmodern philosophy. I needed a paycheck, and the ice cream shop that hired me for twelve hours a week wasn’t cutting it. I liked writing and had enjoyed working on some college publications, so journalism seemed like a good way to earn some money and have fun while I was doing it. And who knows? Maybe I would grow up to be a famous writer.

But to be honest, my literary aspirations were secondary to the need to make my monthly rent and my lack of obvious qualifications. So when, after a long, hot, nearly-jobless Boston summer, Chris Shipley offered me a job as an editorial assistant at PC Computing, I jumped.

I was lucky. I got into tech magazine publishing by accident (there was a recession on, and neither Mother Jones nor the local newspapers were interested in hiring), but it turned out to be a really good time to be covering technology. Over the next decade and a half I worked for InfoWorld, Business 2.0, Wired, a mobile tech startup called Mobile PC, and a bunch of others. I got to witness — and help cover — the second half of the PC revolution, the rise of client-server computing, the earliest days of online services, the dawn of the commercial internet, and the onset of the mobile era. Those booms fueled a lot of advertising, too. Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, tech publications were awash in cash, so we enjoyed plenty of perks, like offices with killer views, lavish Christmas parties and generous travel budgets. Okay, so I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was doing fine. My wife and I bought a house. We built an addition to the house. We started a family.

So yes, Dean Lemann, I’m willing to stand up and be counted as someone who went into journalism for the money. The bet even paid off.

Along the way, I learned that I love the work: I love the tech and the science stories I cover, I love talking to people to learn how they do what they do, I love telling stories and watching as people read and respond to them in real time.

I’m lucky in a different way, too, which is that I get to be a journalist at a time when the profession is being reinvented and turned inside out.

If going into journalism for the money seems ridiculous now it’s a sign of how attenuated the opportunities are becoming for traditional journalists. Needless to say, the perks dried up long ago. The four years I spent as a freelancer, from 1999 to 2003, were a steady downward arc of income, corresponding to the beginning of the end for the news business. There’s a good chance that I’m making as much money now as I will ever make — without changing careers — and that’s a sobering thought. Every morning when I go to work I think about how lucky I am to be working at all — let alone working in one of the most progressive and open-minded newsrooms in the world. I’m grateful for the opportunity for as long as it lasts.

What’s happening right now is the aggressive reinvention of journalism. Many of the most innovative journalists working today didn’t go to J-school, and some don’t even consider themselves journalists at all. They’re bloggers and writers first of all, and don’t necessarily pledge allegiance to the same motivations or values that inspire traditional journalists. The skills that make them stand out can be learned on the job, or through networks of like-minded writers, not through expensive graduate programs.

But the job remains the same: to tell true stories that inform and entertain.

I’m not convinced that journalism as a profession will even survive the next ten years. The economic conditions that enabled newspapers to support huge numbers of reporters have dried up, and I don’t see any credible way for internet advertising or subscriptions or micropayments to make up the difference. Somebody may invent a really lucrative business model that works, and I hope they do. But I’m not holding my breath.

The writers who are successful at telling true stories will still be around, and may still choose to call themselves journalists. Or they may adopt some newer moniker, or none at all.

In the meantime, though, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for as long as I can. I’m excited about the new tools that we have for telling stories, and I’m glad to be in a place where my job is to figure out how to use tech to find and deliver the news better. I still get excited about the possibilities of technology, and I like writing about it. So I’m not going anywhere just yet.

I may have come to journalism for the money, but I’m staying for the stories.

Big Money in Journalism