Ken Conklin
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Ken Conklin

Ken Conklin is a business development consultant who works with small to mid-sized technology companies and design teams, helping them secure R&D funding from U.S. Government SBIR programs, grants and industry sources. Ken also prepares strategic and tactical go-to-market plans for clients, including establishing sales channels. Previously, Ken was the general manager of the Cobham GaAs products operation. Prior to joining Cobham in 2005 (then M/A-COM), he held business development and product marketing positions with Hughes, IBM, and RFMD. During his career, Ken has introduced RF, microwave and millimeter-wave devices and components for AESA, GPS and terrestrial/space system communication applications. He is a frequent guest columnist to the Roanoke Times, contributing “slice of life” commentaries.

Hall of Famers

July 16, 2015

While conducting market research for one of my clients, I landed on the IEEE website. I found the usual links to the IEEE Spectrum, various steering committees and upcoming exhibitions. I also stumbled onto an interesting link to an item with the moniker "Microwave Hall of Fame."

Humankind, which includes me, has a primal fascination with those who have achieved excellence, fame or notoriety in their field. So much so, we replicate their images with statues, photographs and portraits. Furthermore, we name roads, schools and buildings in their honor. And in some cases, we form hall of fame museums to commemorate their body of work.

I know (or have known) several people whose accomplishments are acknowledged by public monuments. My close childhood friend, Richard Davis, is memorialized by the Richard W. Davis Advanced Laser Facility at Kirkland Air Force Base, dedicated after he died suddenly in 2001. As teenagers, we played strategy games from Avalon Hill. It may have been the sessions when we played their board game Gettysburg (which he always won) that motivated him to go on to become a prominent general in the Air Force. And the statue of Big Joe Burrell, holding his saxophone, depicts the only person I have known who has been bestowed such an honor. It is located on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont.

Some may argue that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the most famous of the hall of fame museums. But, for me, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is foremost. It is housed in a building located in the small idyllic upstate New York town of Cooperstown, founded by the father of Last of the Mohicans author, James Fenimore Cooper. Mr. Cooper is not in the baseball hall of fame, but he is in the New York Writer’s Hall of Fame.

At the National Baseball Hall of Fame, there are plaques with names of luminaries such as George Herman (Babe) Ruth, Ty Cobb, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente. Each plaque names the baseball team played for and a brief summary of the player's accomplishments. And, just like the IEEE, there is a section celebrating the contributions of women to the genre.

However, the Microwave Hall of Fame has an actual woman inductee, Hedwig Keisler Markey. I do not know why there is only one female. I can think of several women who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the field. Nevertheless, Ms. Keisler is recognized for her achievement, and her story is remarkable.

I have known at least three members of the Microwave Hall of Fame. While at Hughes Aircraft Company in California, I worked closely with Dr. C. P. Wen. His significant contribution to our craft is the coplanar waveguide. Once on a plane ride to Minneapolis, he explained to me how the abbreviation of his invention came to match his initials. I met Eric Strid when his start-up company was outfitting the Hughes GaAs facility with wafer probing equipment. And I met Ray Pengelly when he visited the Cobham GaAs operation in Blacksburg, Virginia.

I did not know Hedwig Keisler (Markey was her married name at the time) but wish I had. Her beautiful photo looks out of place with those of C. P. Wen, Eric Strid, Georg Simon Ohm and the other luminaries who co-share her presence in the Microwave Hall of Fame. This is because Ms. Keisler was also the glamorous movie actress Hedy Lamarr. Yes, the same Hedy Lamarr who was the Austrian born movie star of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. But she did not define herself as an actress. She was an inventor. She is also an inductee into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Her patent "Secret Communication System" (Patent 2292387) describes the technique of frequency hopping. She and her co-inventor, George Antheil, developed the technique during World War II in order to provide the Allies a method to avoid the jamming of radio controlled torpedoes. She did not profit from her invention, as it was not implemented by the Navy. But, the rest is history, because the invention became the basis of spread-spectrum communication technology, now ubiquitous in all of wireless communications.

But this in-depth research I have conducted, although compelling, has nothing to do with the work I have been hired for by my client. They – a she – have hired me to find some sponsors for her innovation, to gain traction in the marketplace and realize a significant financial reward. A hall of fame induction would be nice also. So I better get back to work and help her do just that.

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