By David Laws

“What’s in a name?” — Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

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First use of the name in print. Electronic News, January 11, 1971 page 1.

Fifty years ago, long before the advent of Facebook, Google, or the later reincarnation of Apple, a front-page article in the tech-industry’s leading newspaper, Electronic News, introduced a new nickname for a cluster of sleepy agricultural communities near San Jose, California. [1] Known nationwide as the “Valley of Hearts Delight” for its bountiful orchards, the Santa Clara Valley would henceforth be known as “Silicon Valley” after a key material used in semiconductor manufacturing, a booming new industry of the area.

As the fleshpots of San Francisco 60 miles to the north were expanding down onto the Peninsula at that time, the tabloid press assumed silicon was a misspelling of silicone, a chemical compound better known to their readers for amplifying the female anatomy. Today no one makes that mistake. Silicon Valley is famous worldwide as a center of entrepreneurial and technological innovation. This is the story of how Silicon Valley got its name. …


“So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay” — Robert Frost

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Pronghorn, sometimes called California Antelope Photo: David Laws

I pulled my jacket close against the chill stirring of an early breeze. A heavy silence enveloped the world in the final, darkest minutes before dawn. To the east, a gray sliver of pending morning peeked from beneath bands of straggling clouds to silhouette the rugged crest of the Temblor Range. …


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British European Airways (BEA) Viscount. Photo: Courtesy The Flight Detective

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Hail Mary …”

The soft Irish brogue and insistent click, click, click of rosary beads from the seat behind me steadily increased in volume and intensity as our British European Airways (BEA) commuter flight from Belfast, Northern Ireland circled over London. For distraction, I searched for familiar landmarks along the River Thames. Through low, scudding clouds, I glimpsed the pagoda and glistening glasshouses of Kew Gardens tucked into a great curve of the river directly under the flight path to Heathrow.

I’m typically calm and collected about situations where I know there is nothing I can change. But a view of the pub where I planned to meet friends for dinner that evening, stirred a twinge of anxiety. There was a real possibility that I might not join them. …


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Condors socialize on the High Peaks of Pinnacles National Park. Photo: Courtesy Gavin Emmons

The dusty pick-up truck pulls up at a ranch gate in rural south Monterey County, California. Against a backdrop of dry, rolling, oak-savanna foothills, three generations of hunters and their dogs wait for the driver to join them. Soaring on the first thermal uplifts of the morning, shadowy silhouettes of turkey vultures circle silently overhead. Their wavering flight pattern signals a quest for food as their extraordinary sense of smell seeks carrion for the first meal of the day.

Mike Stake, senior wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS), reaches into the back of his truck to retrieve packages that he hopes will ensure a welcome greeting. …


“I see little difference in magic and science, except to have the opinion that magic is one step ahead of science” — Sybil Leak

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Evening shadows fall on Burley market cross.

For most of us, dragons, ghosts, and witches raise goosebumps but once a year. For the citizens of Burley, deep in the woods of England’s New Forest National Park, every night must feel like Halloween.

The hamlet of Burley is far from an undiscovered tourist gem. Quaint tearooms and souvenir stores straddling its winding, one-block main street bustle by day. …


“Bruton is the only spot in the world I have refused to see again since John died.” — Elaine Steinbeck (1992)

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Discove Cottage watercolor painted by Betty Guy for Elaine and John Steinbeck in May 1959. Courtesy: Betty Guy.

Elaine Steinbeck’s comment in a 1992 letter to artist Betty Guy refers to the time that she and her husband, Nobel-prizewinning writer John Steinbeck, spent at Discove Cottage in Bruton, Somerset, England while he worked on his “reduction of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur to simple readable prose without adding or taking away anything.”

Steinbeck became fascinated with the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table after his Aunt Molly Martin presented him with a child’s version of the epic tales of chivalry and knighthood on his ninth birthday. He created a secret language based on Malory’s text and rode his horse under the exotic eroded turrets of Castle Rock in Corral de Tierra, near Salinas, California as his imaginary Camelot. …


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The Old Custom House built in 1814, California Historical Landmark # 1. From a vintage postcard in the Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library postcard collection.

Monterey, California, planned a big celebration on June 3, 2020, of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1770. Sadly, all birthday events, from historical reenactments to block parties and patriotic parades, were canceled or postponed due to the great Covid 19 pandemic. Instead, other-worldly masked figures haunt the streets of Old Monterey and the venerable adobes are silent and shuttered. We cannot visit them in person, so I invite you to join me on a virtual tour of some of my favorite spots.

A video recording of this story is posted here on YouTube.

Monterey is proud of its role as the capital of Spanish and, later, Mexican California. With more than forty properties from that era on the historic inventory list, ten of them within the Monterey State Historic Park district, the city claims to have preserved more such buildings than anywhere else in the state. Monterey is also the only place in North America to have lived under the flags of four colonial powers. …


The first four decades

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Intel/Micron NAND Flash Memory Chip

Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) devices are read/write, electronic data-storage elements that continue to hold information after power is removed from the device. They include magnetic disk-drive units and certain semiconductor chips. Semiconductor NVM devices play important roles in every aspect of the digital universe, from storage cells in vast databanks in the cloud to personal portable devices, and comprise one of the largest segments of the $400-billion semiconductor industry today.

As with every significant semiconductor product development, from the transistor to the microprocessor, NVM devices evolved from the work of pioneering researchers who built on the efforts of their predecessors through intuitive insights, lucky breaks, trial and error, and a determination to ignore the doubts of naysayers. This article is a chronological presentation of some of those pioneers and their key technology developments from the first glimmerings of the idea at Fairchild in 1960 to the high-volume manufacture of Flash chips in the last decade of the 20th century. …


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Golden California poppies light up Machine Gun Flats in spring

BEACH RANGE. ENGINEER CANYON. MACHINE GUN FLATS. These are not typical landscape features you’d expect to find on maps of a California “coastal gem” and “hiker’s paradise.” Their roles in decades of service under military ownership are now largely forgotten, replaced by the delights of wildflowers, bird calls, and jingling mountain-bike bells. Explosions, gunfire, and the mayhem of army maneuvers no longer echo across the rugged back-country and ocean-front dunes of Fort Ord National Monument, set between Salinas and Monterey in the heart of historic Steinbeck Country.

Established by the U. S. Army for infantry training in 1917, the base eventually encompassed 28,000 acres of rugged, maritime chaparral overlooking Monterey Bay. Here as many as a million and a half American soldiers were introduced to the rigors of military discipline. After decommissioning in 1994, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) designated former administrative and barracks areas east of Highway One for development, including a new California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) campus, the remainder to be opened for public access. …


“To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question!” — Winston Churchill

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Rustic footbridge across Alum Chine, circa 1880 with contemporary photos of Winston Churchill (1891) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1887)

Dashing onto a rustic footbridge traversing the steep-sided, wooded ravine of Alum Chine, the youth climbed up onto the handrail and jumped for an overhanging fir branch. His younger brother Jack and a cousin watched in horror as the bough snapped. Eighteen-year old Winston Churchill plunged 30 feet to the ground. For three days in 1892 the prolific author (43 book-length works in 72 volumes) and future prime minister of Great Britain lay in a coma followed by three months of bed rest to recover from a ruptured kidney and broken thigh. …

About

David A. Laws

I photograph and write about Gardens, Nature, Travel, and the history of Silicon Valley from my home on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

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