SLO Insider Vol. 1 Issue 01 "The Founders"

Graphene, Memristor Theory, And Really Smart Cal Poly Students

“yo i saw someone that looked just like u … could have been your doppelganger”

– Urban dictionary

Getting past the grammatical shortcomings above is not easy for a writer, but, it is what it is. Today’s texting milieu both accepts and expects the expeditious and efficient use of language. Besides, the meaning is clear and you go on to the next paragraph without wondering, yes?

Not everyone has experienced meeting a “doppelganger,” but some have, including me. It can be eerie, and that was my feeling when I met a doppelganger, a slightly off one at that. It was her voice and gestures, not her face that amazed me.

I drove a young lady who when she speaks, I hear Nadia, the daughter of our dear friends, a young lady of approximately the same age, and when that same lassie gesticulates, I see movement so familiar to Nadia that one has to wonder how this happens, how two women who have never met can have such precise vocal and physical similarities.

I have now driven this intelligent gal twice, and both times the eerie similarity in voice and gestures struck me, yet, our conversation about genetics was equally memorable, as it was one more edifying brick in my certainty and clear understanding about a positive future …

“So, what are you studying at Cal Poly,” a now common question I ask my Cal Poly passengers.

“Biochemistry,” she answers and immediately my mind leaps to the next obvious question, a question related to relaying my amazement at the similarities between two unconnected young women of the same age.

“Okay, so tell me, do you think there is a genetic link to this doppelganger thing, or is it environmental, you know nature or nurture?” I asked my question eagerly and I could see she jumped on board with the same interest.

“Your question implies that one reality is your friend and I grew up in separate but similar enough circumstances that we each independently developed seemingly identical voice patterns and corresponding physical gestures. The other reality is we were born this way. How likely is the former? No, I think it has to be genetic.”

And so the conversation went. In the short time we had, we discussed the idea as deeply as we could, which was not very, but it was fun, and when it was over, I genuinely liked my pax.  Now, I don’t know if I liked her because she talked and moved her hands like Nadia or it was because she was smart, funny, engaging, and cool like Nadia. I guess it doesn’t matter, now does it?

After dropping the biochem girl off that day, on my long and lonely ride back to the house, I flashed on a conversation I had a while back with a real smarty-pants guy.Now, that was a long conversation all the way to Pozo Saloon, a concert hotspot about 35 miles from San Luis Obispo, some 45 minutes of driving with little to see but rolling California hills in summer …

His IQ was plenty up there. That was easy to see, and his singular focus on his current thought, his gentle but awkward manner, and his black-frame glasses sans any pretension led me to see him as, well, a computer-type guy.

“Let me guess, you are majoring in some sort of computer field, right?” I popped the question about five minutes into the ride, and it took him by surprise, although I suspect the only reason it surprised him was because he was ‘majoring in some sort of computer field.’

“Yes, I am majoring in Computer Engineering. How did you know that?” His small smile remained small, as that was it. He expected an answer. The hint that I surprised him came in his tone. His conversation prior to my question was somewhat flat, as if he were talking to a perfect stranger. Oh, wait! Duh!

“Just a lucky guess,” I said wryly. Anyway, with my pegging his academic path, he livened up a bit, but it was my next question that widened his smile and lifted his presentation even more.

“So, tell me, what do you think about graphene, I mean, as a substrate for the next evolution of computer chips?” (IBM builds graphene chip that’s 10,000 times faster) He visibly moved upright in his seat and became quite lively. Looking at me now, not out the window, he asked,

“You know about graphene?” Clearly part of his surprise in the conversation was that his Uber driver conversationally mentioned this carbon allotrope. In my defense, I will say, I do read, a lot.

“Yes, I do. So what do you think about it?” I knew then I had hooked him. We were both grinning and enjoying the ride now.

“I don’t get it,” he said with an earnest look and serious tone. “Graphene and memristor theory have been around for a while, and now all of a sudden, the combo is the hottest thing. You know about memristors, right?” (Flash alternatives graphene and memristors make progress)

“Of course.” My immediate answer was not exactly truthful, but in the moment of his question, I understood three things, and all three forced the two words from my mouth – 1) it would make his day if I knew about memristors as well as graphene, 2) I would soon know about memristors in depth, and 3) it was a long way to Pozo, and if he were excited about our conversation, the ride would go much more comfortably.

“The breakthrough is here and within two years, the shift to graphene chips will fully be underway.” The words flew energetically out of his mouth.

I immediately followed with, “It makes sense because silicon chips are just about tapped out and with the need for more processing and bandwidth, you know smart phones, streaming, and holography on the way, silicon just can’t cut it anymore.” Those words felt good because they made me seem, if only for a moment, his equal in computer understanding. Not only that, but they launched him to another level in animation and excitement in our discussion.

Yes, on that ride to Pozo, I learned a lot about memristor theory. As well, he and I lamented at length about how long it takes for the R&D of a theory to be completed enough so that the economics of commercializing that theory can ramp up.

Our trip to Pozo also reminded me of something I already knew, but now knew better – everybody has at least one thing they like to talk about. You just have to find that one thing.

My certainty and clear understanding about a positive future derives from this – the preponderance of Cal Poly students I pick up each week are smart as whips (Seriously, how did “smart as whips” become a simile?). This fact makes me feel better about handing over some extremely serious global issues this Poly generation did not create. Yes, I am certain and I clearly understand these future pacesetters will be innovative and smart enough to fix our mistakes.

Hey! It just occurred to me. Maybe with graphene and memristors producing greater computing power, future geneticists will also definitively explain the doppelganger phenomenon. Now, that is a future conversation to have ….

Tune in and don’t drop out.
Mr. Uber Driver

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