2019 has been a crazy year for science, the semiconductor market, and for me personally. From the first imaging of the arcane black hole to the petty squabbles between Huawei and the U.S., this year was certainly a fun wild roller coaster ride (with the ride swooshing on to the next decade!). I did not have time to provide my personal opinions and insights on most of these past significant events, so I hope to do so in this year-end article.

The Advent of Quantum Computers

Early January this year, IBM showcased the world's first integrated quantum computer at CES. It's a 20-qubit computer around 9x9x9 ft. in size.

Quantum computers, aside from sounding like a really cool dream-come-true science fiction fantasy gadget, are calculating machines capable of executing instructions a "double exponential" times faster than traditional vector supercomputers. To give you an idea of how fast that is, imagine being a sleek shiny supercomputer sitting in a data center cabinet (10 cabinets wide maybe?). You're performing weather simulations for the NWS (National Weather Service, don't mind right now how this public institution can afford it when all it's data comes at no cost at all) plotting the expected weather pattern over a 10 square mile area in 24 hrs. Now, picture in your mind a 9x9x9 ft. box placed beside you (perhaps consuming the space of only (1) cabinet) and let's call him/her Q. Q boasts he/she can do the task that's taking you 24 hrs in only 2.5 hrs! (much like how I boast at work bwahaha) But seriously, that's 2*exp(2.5) = 24 hrs. which is a double exponential right? An amazing claim, as it would take Q only 1 day to finish a task you would be doing for around a week and a half! With this stunning performance, quantum computers can do the computations supercomputers cannot, like perhaps solve why I'm still single in spite of my rock-hard abs (*sob* - just kidding, they're gelatin).

Here is where we drive into a pickle, Google - IBM's "quantum" rival (I should really keep puns at a minimum), would make claims that it has built quantum computers far exceeding the performance of modern day supercomputers. But IBM, when presented with what Google published in "Nature", disputed the data saying Google is doing a trump impression. So who is to believe?

Personally, I do think Google has indeed exceeded the threshold, but with a major undisclosed drawback (it's that gut-feeling you have that there's a catch). I'm not a computer science expert, but it's just... with all the pressure from IBM as a rival this year, anyone would be compelled to leak his/her ground-breaking work even if it's still half-baked. Of course, this is just theory and speculation and I may unfortunately be ignorant of the latest fab. tech. being used by Google's 54 qubit processor (note: that's 54 qubits vs. IBM's 20 qubit commercial supercomputer) so who really knows? No matter, all doubts will fade away once Google publishes their next series of quantum achievements and milestones, which makes 2020 all the more exciting!

Jason Momoa Look-alike Scores All-90 in PTE-A

There are times in a writer's life when he/she questions the true proficiency of his English language use. Unfortunately, such episodes are frequently accompanied with delusions of physical beauty, but nonetheless it happened to me. Sometimes I recline on my chair, look up at the ceiling, and ponder in deep thought - is my grammar and vocabulary still better than that of the current president of some Western country? What English language test should I take to best measure my current level? I already had a go with the IELTS two years back and found out my weaknesses. So which language metric suited to the academe should I try next?

I looked out the window and gazed mindlessly at a pile of peat near the faux garden. The rich brown color of peat made me search it up on Google, and voila! The PTE-A uncannily popped up in the search engine (okay, it may have been more complicated than that but I'm not trying to write a sleep-inducing article, am I?). I clicked the link and winded up on their website. It said:

"Prove your English Skills with PTE Academic"
"At PTE Academic, we don’t judge anything about you… Except your English skills."

Aha! Finally!! I won't be judged by my dashing good looks - I thought to myself. So I immediately signed up for an exam. Hands down, the best resource I used to prepare was E2Language (https://www.e2language.com/Course/PTE). Fervently going through all their Youtube videos and free content definitely had a profound effect, it had me feeling like I could engage in in-depth conversation with a chimpanzee. My roommates were in awe as I vocally rehearsed the 44 fundamental sounds of English, leaving me a tad bit too confident during test day.

The results were fast, sent to me in less than a week or so.

I was overjoyed the test judged me as an excellent English speaker, but some time afterwards I felt something amiss. Then it dawned on me, the downside of a perfect score  I'd usually get during my college days as well (imminent Macrocephaly incoming) - under which facet should I improve more? Right, you're left clueless as to what your weaknesses are. I knew I had some shortcomings during the exam, and analyzed potential shortfalls. In the end, I just have to hope my personal conclusions would be enough to propel me into a more effective user of the English language (that is, until the next time I'd have enough funds to gauge my English skills again - these tests are loftily priced for some reason - Argh!).

Black Hole Imaged for the First Time

At the center of galaxy M87, a supermassive black hole was imaged through a telescope the size of the Earth. 

If I were to repeat the sentence above to a reputable audience decades ago, you bet I'd be getting more laughs than I am hopefully getting now. The concept of imaging an interstellar body with an instrument the size of the entire planet, let alone that body being a whooping black hole, would've sounded totally outrageous! Black holes are a consequence of Einstein's relativity, a division by zero (or singularity) that seems incomprehensible to the imagination. How can such an entity be photographed? 

Caption: Black Hole courtesy of NASA (Astronomy Picture of the Day)

Being a dabbler in astrophysics, I cannot provide any further meaningful comments on the subject matter, but can only express amazement and pleasure of having seen the radio  image of an actual black hole. Kudos to all the astronomers involved in this fantastic initiative!

Semiconductor Markets Fall Due to Oversupply of DRAM and NAND Memory Components

In 2018, some smart alecks (like yours truly) thought it was a brilliant idea to stock on memory components, maybe out of fear of supply shortage or in response to projected forecasts in market demand. In an upsetting turn of events, DRAM and NAND parts were overproduced yielding a sharp downturn in the semiconductor market by the first quarter of 2019 as pricing of DRAMs and NANDs fell. Incomes dropped and panic ensued - almost (if not all) companies employed defensive measures (such as budget cuts and cost-cutting) to shield them from any abrasive effects the economic catastrophe may bring.

A New Hope and The Rise of 5G

Similar to the titles of the Star Wars saga, a new hope is found in the rise of 5G communications. It is expected to recover IC sales this 2020, since 5G-enabled smartphones are tied to semiconductor devices (duh - smartphones operate through ICs). With this promising comeback in mind, we can look forward to a recovery by the semiconductor markets - unless another smart aleck decides to oversupply again.

(now, there is this issue too between the US and China - specifically Huawei being added to a list of companies that can't deal with US companies without a "special permit", but I have no reliable means of confirming (nor do I have the data to validate) whether this issue contributed significantly to the current dilemma being faced by the semiconductor markets, only the slight drop of Qualcomm and Intel's stocks - see: http://www.eememes.com/2019/04/why-us-is-in-danger-closer-look-at-us.html)