19 January 2012

More on Steve Jobs

Again, as I did on January 13, I'll bend your ear with a quote from the Steve Jobs biography.  This concerns the contribution of a nowadays unheralded engineer named Ron Holt to the development of the Apple II, the pre-macintosh breakthrough computer that went on sale in 1977. The simple version of the story of Apple II is that Steve Wozniak did the basic engineering work, and that Steve Jobs sold it to the world. Here's the wikipedia version of events.

But there is more to it, and Ron Holt is a big part of that more. Wozniak, whose passion was the circuitry, didn't concern himself with the issue of heat. But bringing into a PC the power necessary to keep all those circuits functioning can make for a lot of heat, and that can require a fan, a low-tech contraption in itself, to disperse said heat. Jobs thought fans an inelegant solution, and looked for someone who could come up with a better one.

"Instead of a conventional linear power supply, Holt built one like those used in oscilloscopes. It switched the power on and off not sixty times per second, but thousands of times; this allowed it to store the power for far less time, and thus throw off less heat. 'That switching power supply was as revolutionary as the Apple II logic board was,' Jobs later said. 'Rod doesn't get a lot of credit for this in the history books, but he should. Every computer now uses switching power supplies, and they all rip off Rod's design.' For all of Wozniak's brilliance, this was not something he could have done. 'I only knew vaguely what a switching power supply was,' Woz admitted."

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.