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How to Build a Computer 34: Etching

 

We’re moving back from the series on measurement to the whole process of making computer bits out of silicon. Way back, starting with Computers 7, I started a series on patterning; how you can take an idea and draw it small enough that you can apply that pattern to these really tiny circuits. I went over, step by step, each thing you need to do to create the pattern. I skipped entirely the bit where I tell you what, exactly, you do with one of those patterns when you’ve got them. This is the first of a couple of articles that fit, in manufacturing terms, between Computers 15 (Developing), and 16 (Stripping). You develop your pattern on with photoresist, this is how you make it permanent.

We’ll start with etching. Broadly speaking ‘etching’ covers any process where you start with more material and end up with less material. I mean aside from gambling. Let’s say you’ve got your silicon wafer, you want to etch some of that silicon away. To do this we start by burning your wafer. …Okay, perhaps that’s poor phrasing. Put the flamethrower down and I’ll describe what I mean. To protect your silicon wafer from the damage the etching process would do to it we’re going to want to mask it, with a silicon dioxide layer. Heat your wafer up in the presence of oxygen and this happens:

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In the spring of 1981 I bussed and then hitchhiked from Houston to the Pecos River, where I put in my inflatable raft, with a view to reaching the Rio Grande. This would have been highly impractical under the best of circumstances – read “water actually in the river” – but there was suddenly enough […]

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I have little personal experience with earthquakes, as I live in a place which has few and the ones we have are small. I can say I’ve felt two little ones, but that’s it. I’m no expert, so, correct me if I’m wrong. It seems to me that every small earthquake is a good thing. […]

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Imagine if you could have your own private waterfall. It is hot when you are cold. It is cool when you are hot. And it only flows when you want it to. Imagine being able to talk to someone on the other side of the planet. Beginning the conversation requires no preparation. It can be […]

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Quote of the Day: Science

 

“All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” – Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was a physicist. (You could tell, couldn’t you?) Yet he hits on one essential truth with this quote: the more rigorous and replicable experiments in a field of science are, the more reliable the results. With physics, mathematics provides the rigor, and if an experiment is not replicable, there better be a really good reason — some reason that when factored in makes the result replicable. Stamp collecting is Rutherfords’s shorthand for ordering and collecting, which is about all you can do absent mathematics and rigorous analysis.

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How to Build a Computer 33: Atomic Force Microscopy!

 

Atomic Force Microscopy is a refinement of that long and hallowed scientific tradition: poke it with a stick and see what happens. Picture, if you will, a blind man walking across the street. He taps the ground with his cane, profiling the height of the surface. That tells him where the curbs are; he doesn’t trip because he knows when to step up and step down. Now picture that blind man in a skate park, full of ramps and contours. He could, by painstaking effort, tap his cane up and down the entire area of the skate park and build up a picture in his mind where all the half-pipes lay, even though he can’t see ’em himself. Now picture him in that same skate park, doing kick-flips and grinding like a pro. Because that sounds awesome.

Three square microns of (highly ordered pyrolitic) graphite. A friend of mine measured this as part of a school project we worked on. This is after a metaphorical baseball bat to the head of mathematical smoothing.

Atomic Force Microscopy builds up a portrait of the surface of a thing by rubbing a tiny, tiny needle across it, and reading it like you’d read the grooves on a record. Heck, you could probably play it like a record too, only it’d sound all staticky because nobody bothered to lay down music on that spot to begin with. (Although…)

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I found this video of the speakers from the 50th. With all the coverage of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I thought it would be of interest to some R people. I’ve written about this several times, but this has the participants speaking. Here’s my wife and my father. More

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Utterly Absurd

 

In 1914, in his novel The World Set Free, H.G. Wells wrote of a future featuring “atomic bombs,” in which “it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a city.” That was thirty-one years before Trinity — before the detonation of the first atomic weapon in the sands of southern New Mexico.

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrentheit 451, written in 1953, described ear-buds, those ubiquitous little earphones everyone wears today. He called them “seashells,” but we’d recognize them today — as we would the insular cocoon they created for the perpetually distracted wife of that novel’s protagonist.

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I’m pretty sure she did. This was a coworker of mine at Texas A&M forty years ago: her husband was a graduate student, getting a doctorate in malacology. I wish I could have told her I already knew what that was. She didn’t mind informing me; it bemused her so to do, with just about […]

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America praise Texas Governor Greg Abbott for a series of conservative legislative victories. They also react as YouTube admits it is suppressing what it deems “borderline” content. And in a double crazy martini, they discuss Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (literally) running from Republican competition while reportedly entertaining […]

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Washington’s War on Big Tech: Must There Be a Google?

 

If Washington’s War on Google has begun, when will it end? The Justice Department is apparently gearing up an investigation of the internet giant. And for what reason exactly? That’s unclear. But one 2012 Federal Trade Commission analysis might give us a hint. It described Google as “engaging in tactics that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google’s monopoly power over search and search advertising.”

Overseas, the European Commission has thrice fined Google for business practices deemed uncompetitive. The most recent came last March when regulators hit the company with a nearly $2 billion fine for past “abusive practices.” The EC said Google “abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites.”

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And to think folks are worried about government becoming Big Brother: https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazons-plan-to-move-in-to-your-next-apartment-before-you-do-11559361605 More

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In the submarine service we have a saying: “There are two types of ships—submarines and targets.” Well, some of the targets just got harder to detect: https://www.foxnews.com/tech/all-3-navy-zumwalts-now-in-the-water-how-can-a-destroyer-be-stealthy More

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How to Build a Computer 32: X-Rays

 

I think x-rays have had their dramatic potential shortchanged by the way they’re actually useful. You hear “gamma rays” and your mind is drawn to the Incredible Hulk and how he gained his bright purple shorts. Cosmic Rays? Space madness! But when your mind turns to x-rays you start thinking “dentistry.” Much less exciting.

Right. Computers. Today we’re going to spend one more post on Electron Microscopy, and another way these things are useful. This one is actually pretty straightforward from topics we’ve already covered. I’m sure y’all have been taking notes, and know immediately that I’m referring to Computers 5: Fundamental Chemistry, where I described the process of prodding electrons into giving up photons. I’ll save you the reread, even though jokes about New Jersey never get old. Here are the useful bits:

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Twitter, Baskets of Hands, and the Incentive Problem

 

I should state up front that I do not use Twitter. I have occasionally followed a link to Twitter, but I don’t linger there. It is a confusing mess that seems to bring out the very worst in people. It seems that Twitter is starting to realize this, and to understand that the solution may not be in controlling who has access to Twitter, but in how the system rewards its users. We all respond to incentives. We all, to some degree, are rewards junkies – when certain behaviors are rewarded, we repeat and amplify those behaviors to receive more of those rewards. Twitter’s problem, as its CEO Jack Dorsey has begun to understand, is that it rewards awful behavior, rage, groupthink, bullying, and dehumanizing its users.  A Buzzfeed article from May 15th details how Twitter is experimenting with a new interface – one that reduces the incentives for the worst of behavior, and perhaps restores some humanity.

In its early years Twitter optimized for engagement, which engagement features (replies, and the like and retweet buttons) and metrics (number of followers, likes, retweets, and replies) help to deliver. So now it’s trying to shift what it encourages people to do.

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People who care about the free exchange of ideas — of any ideas, not merely the ideas that conform to the popular orthodoxies — are frustrated by a seeming paradox: though we are a free people living in an era of unparalleled connectivity in which the communication monopoly represented by old-fashioned media has effectively been […]

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How to Build a Computer 31: Sputtering

 

Today we answer an important question: “How do I coat things in metal; even things that don’t want to be coated in metal?” You want to plate gold onto you Sacajawea dollar, that’s easy enough. You can use electricity to get one metal to stick to another. You want to cover Jill Masterson you use gold paint. But let’s say you’ve got a little plastic doohickey you want to look at under an SEM. Plastic famously refuses to conduct electricity. So how do you defeat the charging problems? (The charging problems that we mentioned last time. You were paying attention, weren’t you?) The answer is you sputter coat it. And this week I’ll be explaining what that means.

Also in the SEM lab; you can tell by the example images they’ve stuck into the window.

Start with an Argon plasma. Hmm… maybe let’s start a little earlier than that. A plasma is a gas where the atoms have an electron stripped off. Also, the stripped off electrons. You’ve got to keep your plasma at a pretty high energy, otherwise your atoms recapture their electrons and you end up with a boring ol’ gas. If you’re the Sun then you can make a plasma by heating up these gases to an enormous temperature. On Earth that’s less convenient, so we use electricity.

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Wanting to limit carbon emissions without embracing nuclear energy is like… … wanting your kids to live healthy lives without getting them vaccinated. More

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I recently pitched talking about the early space race to a podcast which focuses on the Cold War. They accepted and I started reviewing my sources. In 2008, there was a program at the Naval Research Lab (NRL) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Vanguard 1. Then NASA administrator Mike Griffin was […]

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