A Hoax within a Hoax

The Inner  Hoax

was the non-secret production of a spoof Signetics data sheet for a fictitious product. A Write-Only-Memory called a WOM. I wrote the data sheet.

The Outer Hoax

When I stumbled onto Wikipedia’s description of the origin of the Signetics 25120 Read-Only-Memory, I was surprised to learn that the data sheet responsible for all the attention was created by an unnamed “frustrated engineer“.  Later, he morphed into a “disgruntled” engineer. He was “frustrated by the long and useless sequence of approvals for data sheets (during which no actual checking occurred).”

The article goes on to say this engineer submitted the WOM data sheet for approval with a batch of other data sheets. The managers assigned to check them “saw nothing wrong with the data sheet“. The new data sheet was approved and “wound up in Signetics’ new product catalog“.

The article goes on to say, “customers began asking for price and delivery” and that was noticed by the managers who reprinted the data book and offered to replace the “erroneous” books. (Actually the books contained the WOM in the catalog for a period I don’t know and each was guarded like a misprinted postal stamp.)

In researching this fairy tale*, I found every one of more than 33 pages of Google results was rooted in this NSC publication, “The Best of Bob Pease” cited by Wikipedia who still consider their entry as “unrated” for quality and importance.

Except one. This result appeared when the search terms (signetics joke memory) included the word “curtis“. This result consisted of a very interesting ten-year old thread between Jeff Liebermann, a Jerry (xray) and a Malcolm Hoar. I can’t be sure who the “Jerry” is but he says his office was next to mine in the Signetics R&D basement and that “Jack Curtis” developed the (WOM) concept. And, he added, the DED concept (dark emitting diode). But I think that was a National Semiconductor (NSC) creation. Possibly this “Jerry” was the late Jerry Lawson who was in our same little group but it doesn’t sound like him. Interestingly, Jeff Liebermann was the winner of the WOM Application contest as he notes in the thread.

I hope to see a correction to the faulty Wikipedia entry or at the least withdraw it. This blog holds the true story. (Wikipedia today 12/16/2014 replaced entry with true story.)

*With all due respect to now departed guru Bob Pease, what prompted you to  spin this yarn? It doesn’t even sound  rational. And how did Wikipedia take this one casual source without supporting evidence to produce this tautology where the references cite the same source as the item itself? All five Wikipedia related references mirror the same source (Pease). Reference five ( Jargon) defines in a link the derisive term “management”, where superiors are too distant from actual work. That derision (of rival Signetics managers) is apparent in the Pease article.

John G. (Jack) Curtis



8 thoughts on “A Hoax within a Hoax

  1. Folkert

    I first learned about the Signetics WOM hoax from ‘the Jargon file’, version 4.0, around 1997. This electronic document was released in 1996 and can be found on the net. It in turn is based on Guy L. Steele’s ‘The Hacker’s Dictionary’, Harpers & Row, 1983.

    In this document, the spec is included in a bunch of other specs for approval by a frustrated engineer. An advert ‘around 1974’ is also mentioned.

    Just add the usual wiki-embellishments and voila…

  2. Steve Baker

    Hi! I’m an active and widely respected Wikipedia editor – and while I didn’t have anything to do with the article in question, I do feel a responsibility to try to fix it.

    The simplest thing would seem to be to delete the entire section and replace it with your explanation – but the problem is that Wikipedia operates using the concept of “reliable sources” – meaning books, fact-checked magazines, newspapers, scientific papers, etc. This is going to make it tough to just take your word for it. (And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of that here!)

    So your edit of the article 10 days ago was removed because we simply can’t accept as “TRUTH” something that someone claiming to be you just wrote off the top of their head. We need some backing evidence from 3rd party sources.

    So the best way to iron this out (and it definitely NEEDS to be ironed out) is to try to track down evidence of the story in other writings.

    If you can help in that direction – I’d be very happy to help to do my very best to set the record straight.

    I remember the fuss when your wonderful prank appeared. I was working at Philips Research Labs around that time and although we immediately understood it for what it was, we DID try to trick our management into ordering some WOMs and expressed our desire that the parts warehouse at the lab keep some in stock.

    So I suspect that at least some customers DID try to order the part – but not because they were taken in by it, but because their engineers wanted to see if they could use it to trick their management into a long ‘snipe hunt’ to get these vitally important, ground-breaking components. That made it a prank within a prank…which was all the more delicious.

    Do you know what would have happened had one of our orders actually made it to Signetics?

    Many thanks for giving us all a good laugh way back then!

    — Steve

    1. jgcurtis Post author

      Many thanks for your kindness. Yes I remember engineers trying to spoof their buyers. That’s really one of the purposes of the spoof. I think the thread with contest winner Jeff Liebermann (accessible), a Jerry who remembers me and the project) (I’m asking Jeff if he remembers the last name.)and a Malcolm (bystander) is good reference. Also Roy Twitty’s spoof Press Release is good proof (he labels me Dr. John G. Curtis), which I’m not a Dr.. I’m 84 now, many of the witnesses are gone but this flurry of PR may pull one or two out. Contact me if you need anything else.

      1. jgcurtis Post author

        Please check my post #2, it has a link to a similar EIMAC 1950 vacuum tube, the UMAC 606. Very similar in properties to the UMAC 1Z2Z that I cited.

    2. jgcurtis Post author

      Steve, the article’s reference 7 contains two links which are (poor) counterfeits of the original data sheet. both front and rear. Compare with scan of original link in my blog, 3rd and 4th paragraph, in “The Wikipedia Connection”. I think this should be addressed in the interest of accuracy.


    3. Stiletto

      Hi Steve, I’m the nerd who brought this to the attention of Slashdot. 🙂

      I fixed up the references in the Wikipedia article as best I can, let me know if I have done something wrong.

      Jack, I linked them to The Internet Archive’s copy of the datasheet when it was hosted on National.com by Bob Pease. Wikipedia tends to frown upon too many references linking to the same website (ex. sigwom.com and its Dropbox.com account)

      1. jgcurtis Post author

        Better but not best. Ref. 7 now shows scan from contest brochure. It is slightly fuzzy and has colored areas not in original. Yellow circuit diagram is not clear. This file is actual datasheet scan. It is weathered and aged but it is the real article. It is clearer too.


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