Trying to see the big picture by digging into the details of the past. Also, bikes, because they can save the world.


On September 10, 1981, Linear Technology Corporation was officially incorporated.

That was forty years ago. Forty years before that was 1941 when wireless meant a radio with five vacuum tubes, when computers were people with slide rules, and when robotics was a new science fiction term coined by Isaac Asimov. A lot can happen in forty years and who among us can predict it? These guys!

The four founders in the photo (Dobkin, Swanson, Welling, Hollins) had left important roles at National Semiconductor in order to start a new company that was exclusively committed to linear integrated circuits. …

Long ago, a shallow, marshy lake existed not far from the front window of my home. Its shores were thick with willows; its reach changed by miles with the seasons. Streams — what the Spaniards called arroyos — trickled down from the mountains to feed the lake. The arroyos meandered like untidy braids, sometimes ran dry in the summer, but water persisted in the lake all year long. Beautiful, in its own way.

If you live in California, you may have lost your lake, too.

No matter when you were born, you witnessed a revolution in the use of synthetic chemicals — better living through chemistry.

The revolution was slow, barely perceptible, like a drop in the bucket. Drip, drip, over your whole lifespan.

The phrase “a drop in the bucket” suggests something insignificant and therefore acceptable for us to ignore. Its complement is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” which suggests our realization that something previously insignificant has suddenly become unacceptable to us.

A drop of sunscreen disappears when rubbed onto your skin and the residue on your hands is washed down the…

This is what it looks like to cross the tipping point. Over 95% of the kelp forest along the Northern California coast has disappeared in a matter of a few years. If you’ve ever walked the beaches and seen the kelp washed up on the shore; if you’ve ever kayaked over the top of the canopy; if you ever dived down into that dark forest teeming with fish, colorful starfish, and abalone; you are lucky because that world is almost all gone.

A Unique Environment

The beaches in Northern California, as uninformed tourists quickly learn, are rugged and very cold. The North Pacific…

Robert H. Swanson, Jr., built a company — a culture — that was the most profitable in the semiconductor industry, yet flew below the radar. Its employees famously ‘never left’ in Silicon Valley where job-hopping is applauded. Once called the Toughest CEO in the Valley, he attracted and retained many of the most talented and fiercely independent analog engineers. For over three decades, relentlessly vigilant to his founding strategy, Linear Technology Corporation focused on analog while the rest of the industry went digital.

There’s no simple equation for how he did it, nor did he do it alone. To understand…

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to go back and read the Constitution, to remind themselves what impeachment means, or to understand how the electoral college works, or to figure out what limits our freedoms have, then perhaps it’s helpful to be reminded that ours is not the oldest democracy.

The United States cannot claim to have the oldest democracy without resorting to multiple qualifiers, but what if we did have the oldest? Not, what if the U.S. Constitution was somehow older than others, but what if one of the older constitutions was somehow…

I’ve said this phrase and I’ve had it said to me.

I’ve also been on both sides of the phrase, “management agrees with your idea and wants to implement the change immediately.”

Implementing a Pivot

Every company faces market dynamics and needs to pivot quickly to adapt. A “pivot” can be a change in strategy, a redefinition of product features, a shift in market focus, or a redeployment of resources to a different project. The faster and more effectively they can pivot to better strategies or more valued products, compared to their competitors, the better their outcome. A successful pivot must be customer-driven, holistic, and well-communicated. More importantly, it must be supported by employees.

How the right people, a unique place, and the Panic of 1837 proved we could get along

Historians tend to smooth out the ebb and flow of circumstances. Lessons to be learned sometimes hide in the eddies of a distant time and place. One such eddy current bubbled up along the Kalamazoo River in the 1840s.

The most concise history of the area involves Native Americans allying with the British against the United States in the War of 1812, which ultimately defined the border with Canada. Treaties were signed, tribes were forcibly moved west of the Mississippi River, and the territories became states. In 1837, Michigan became a state and pioneering settlers poured in to tame the…

Part visionary, part con-man, my hometown’s namesake left little more than his name. Unfulfilled dreams, possible corruption, then vanished.

Young and brash from a wealthy family, he lost patience for medical school in Massachusetts. Restless again after being admitted to the bar at 25 in Vermont, he headed west to practice law. The brand new Erie Canal expedited his trip across New York. After reaching Detroit, he crossed the fledgling Michigan Territory on the old Native American footpath called the St. Joseph Trail. Arriving at a bend in the Kalamazoo River near a tallgrass prairie, he settled in 1836. But George L. Gale was more of a prospector and less of a settler. …

Todd Nelson

Engineer, sustainability, indigenous history, analog electronics history and anything that supports my belief that bikes can save the world.

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