Don't bother looking at Wikipedia for an article about George Philbrick.
August 4, 2007 1:57 AM   Subscribe

It has always been difficult to look up any information on the pioneers of computing. Even today, in the Internet age, one has trouble finding much about early computers--even on the ultimate computer network.

Consider the late George A. Philbrick. He was one of the titanic figures in electronic computing in the 1950s--mainly because of the company he founded, which was a major manufacturer (and pioneer) of the operational amplifier, at a time when an "op-amp" was made of vacuum tubes. Op-amps were used to build analog computers, which were widely used to simulate physical processes in the days when digital computers were either non-existent, or too slow and costly, for many kinds of simulation and process-control work. Op-amps, in chip form, are still widely used in electronics. Yet, despite his unquestioned status as a major pioneer of electronics, there was almost nothing on the Internet about Philbrick or his company.

Until 2005--when Joe Sousa decided to put up a website dedicated to Philbrick's legacy. Behold The Philbrick Archive.
posted by metasonix (10 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
And here's an addendum: Philbrick didn't invent the first successful op-amp design. A Columbia University student named Loebe Julie gets the credit--that, is, now that people have learned how Julie's engineering professor tried to steal his design.
posted by metasonix at 2:00 AM on August 4, 2007

Al Gore invented George Philbrick? How's that possible?
posted by ZachsMind at 2:40 AM on August 4, 2007

Ooh, I LOVE this stuff. Thank you.
posted by mrbill at 2:46 AM on August 4, 2007

This is kinda like looking at Leonardo's sketchbooks. Cool!
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2007

Loebe Julie's trouble sounds a lot like what happened to Gordon Gould's work with the LASER. It also took place at Columbia.
posted by toftflin at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2007

I actually have a couple of K2-W tube op amp. I really need to see if I can light them up.
posted by eriko at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2007

741 FTW

Thanks for the post, metasonix. EE history is fascinating for all its geniuses, eccentrics, and rogues.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:13 PM on August 4, 2007

God, I love op-amps and analog computers. They are so elegant. They actually multiply, not like a digital computer that just adds over and over really fast. I've got a copy of the Op-Amp Cookbook signed by Walter Jung in my bookcase at work.

I used to work for a supercomputer company that at one time made an analog supercomputer. They still had a system in the basement when I was there and a couple engineers who had worked on it. With digital systems, a ground signal with only 50 millivolts of noise is considered good. With the analog SC, the noise floor on the ground was less than 10 microvolts. THAT's engineering.

Good link, metasonix.
posted by forrest at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2007

I was fascinated with analog computers in high school, read fairly deeply about them, and knew enough to construct a model.

About the coolest thing I recall was and entire new helicopter design modeled on an analog computer. The designers would "fly" it in real-time to see how stable it was and how it handled, and then look at the generated strip charts to see if the stresses were enough to make the rotors break
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:50 PM on August 4, 2007

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