JF Ptak Science Books Post 1685
The moment that I saw this image1 of (what I think is) the 8086 processor I thought of its great visual similarities to one of the greatest engineering works of the 16th century, so much so that with a little imagination, the older work seems a pentimento of the newer. This microprocessor--which in 1979 was a vast leap forward in development--looks like an architectural/engineering plan: large objects being hauled into place by legions of workers with wooden cranes, giant winches and mammoth rope, a fantastical display of concerted effort on a gargantuan scale. It is, or was, in fact an enormous leap in hardware engineering, a micro-mammoth advancement.
This older, pentimento image is a plan for moving of the great 500,000-pound Egyptian Obelisk (carved during the reign of
Nebkaure Amenemhet II, 1992-1985 BCE, and originally standing in the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis) at the Vatican. The engraving appeared in Domenico Fontana's masterpiece Della trasporatione dell’obelisco Vaticano…(published in Rome by Bassa in 1590) and illustrated one of the greatest engineering feats of the Renaissance. Moving this enormous and relatively delicate object (from the Circus Nero, where it was placed by the emperor Caligula in 37 ACE, to St. Peter’s Piazza del Popolo, 50 years or so before it would be more enveloped by Bernini’s flying wings) took years of (very) careful planning and months of motion and movement, not to mention an extra month to get everything into place and slowly raise the obelisk into its final position. Fontana had to be cautious and correct, and he was, performing a not-so-minor miracle of pre-industrial magic to move the priceless 250-ton iconic relic and place it perfectly down in the center of Christianity. That must have been one hot Roman summer, especially for Fontana.
I can easily see the similarities in Fontana's work and that of Intel. Here, in a photograph of the 16k bit random access memory chip (via Mostek Corporation) I can see a vast palace at the top of the picture, with a long, columned entrance with manicured gardens on either side. The image offers an elevation and a plan--that is, the top and bottom images of the buildings are seen in a deeply oblique view, while the central part of the image is a straight-out plan. At least that's what I see, its imaginative possibilities more appealing than the physical realities (though that's where the extraordinary value is/was).
1. J.H. Westcott, "The Application of Microprocessors". In Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, A, 367, 451-484 (197 9(.