Last week I learned that Electronic News lost a long-time member of the family. Bernie Levine, a fixture within the industry trade press who spent 26 years at Electronic News’ erstwhile print edition, died earlier this month, apparently the result of a rapidly advancing neurological disorder.
I’m not one for long goodbyes, and absolutely loathe the very concept of obituaries; at best, even a novel-length biography can only scratch the surface of what really comprises a life, beyond the facts and figures.
Nevertheless, I feel compelled to mark Bernie’s death and bid him goodbye in these electronic pages. I wasn’t particularly close to Bernie, but I was certainly fond of him, to be sure.
And perhaps it’s even fitting, in a way, that his passage is marked here in the electronic successor to the print trade publication for which he wrote from 1976 to 2002 — countless business decisions were surely made with the information provided by Bernie, decisions that contributed in no small way to the rise of the electronic medium that is the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Thanks for Holding a Nervous Hand, Bernie
When I first started at Electronic News, my appearance raised more than a few eyebrows (those of you that know me know what I’m talking about). But then in the relatively small, conservative world of the semiconductor industry — and in the even smaller world of the semiconductor trade press — it is easy to stand out among the many corporate shills and drones. But Bernie, he was in a class by himself; he had a style that was part old school New York but all Bernard Levine.
But his unique qualities extended far beyond his appearance and manner. He was adept at seeing beyond the marketing baloney we frequently encounter and getting to the heart of an issue quite easily. He had his many years of experience to rely upon, and wasn’t afraid to call things like he saw them. Yet I never saw him exhibit an abrasive manner that one so often sees in journalists; Bernie always seemed to maintain a rather quiet and likeable — if definitely New York — demeanor, and exhibited a subtle humor that sometimes crept into his writing, as well.
In fact, I don’t recall anyone outside of E-News ever having anything but good things to say about Bernie, which I don’t think can be said about anyone else in the trade press, myself included.
He certainly knew semiconductor packaging technology, as well as the passives and components market, inside and out, and I was frequently awed by his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge and historical perspective. When I started here, I was hired to write about capital equipment and process technology, and I was also tasked with helping Bernie on his beats.
At the time I barely understood what a semiconductor was, much less the difference between wire bonding and chipscale packaging. Reflow oven? Is that like an Easy Bake Oven? Fortunately I was able to pick Bernie’s brain when I needed to, and he never seemed to mind my bugging him.
I’ll never forget my first tradeshow, two months after I was hired at E-News: Nepcon West, a packaging show. I was covering it with Bernie, and thank the technology gods I was; I was completely clueless and would have been lost without him. Lead-free packaging? Like I said, at that time I knew more about lead-free gasoline.
But then I’ve made a life out of jumping into things I don’t know much about, like semiconductors — and managing to swim more often than sink, fortunately. But when I started at E-News, Bernie sometimes served as my water wings, and made my initial swim a bit easier.
From 8bit to 64bit: Bernie Was Here for it All
But I’m certainly not the only one who will miss Bernie; he was no less than a fixture in the industry. We — his fellow writers on E-News — used to joke that when the first transistor was laid down in a gallium substrate 50 some years ago in Bell Labs, Bernie was there to write about it. He hadn’t been around quite that long, but he was certainly an industry Methuselah.
Just think: The year Bernie came along to E-News, NASA’s last Skylab mission had drawn to a close two years before; the last Apollo moon mission a few years before that. Apple Computer had incorporated and released the Apple 1 computer board in kit form in 1976; Microsoft hired its first permanent programmer; Texas Instruments rolled out the first 16bit MPU; Intel rolled out its first 5MHz processor, the 8bit 8085, built on 3-micron technology; and IBM debuted its desktop computer, the IBM 5100, in Japan — the 5100, incidentally, featured a five-inch monochrome display and sold in Japan for around $10,000, a thousand or two more than what it cost back in the States.
Bernie came along at the beginning of the first big change in the chip industry: the PC. Myself, I turned eight years old at the end of 1976, and the only technology I was interested in was bionics. The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman TV series were still in full swing that year, and every American kid at the time wanted to be either Col. Steve Austin or Jamie Sommers, and I was no exception.
Of course, the industry has changed, evolved and matured since then, and Bernie was there to witness it all. He touched a lot of lives along the way; I can’t possibly begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard: “E-News? Oh, you work with Bernie Levine, don’t you. We love him.” Or: “Hey, you know Bernie Levine, don’t you? He’s great; he’s been around forever.”
Evidently what made Bernie so good at what he did was his passion for technology. Even after a quarter of a century, his attitude wasn’t jaded or cynical when it came to technology itself. In his final column of a series done for his 25-year anniversary with E-News, he reminisced about how technology that was once inconceivable was now mundane, and wondered just what else that was in the realm of science fiction would soon become science fact. I can’t help but feel a little saddened reading that column now, thinking of the many forthcoming technological wonders Bernie won’t get to see.
But I take heart in the fact that he played a long and significant role in the industry, and that our paths crossed for a time, and that I got to know him when I did.
With Bernie’s death the industry has lost a valuable resource, one that can’t really be replaced; he had a perspective that can only be gained with time and experience. And we in the trade press, myself in particular, have lost a valued colleague and friend.
So long, Bernie.
Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.