Tech Smorgasbord Archives - 28
The Original Dilbert
Do you know how engineering whipping boy
Dilbert came to be called by that name? Per Scott Adams, while working at Pacific Bell
he ran an informal name-the-comic-strip-engineer contest from his cubicle. A guy named Mike Goodwin suggested Dilbert. "I ended the
contest immediately and declared Mike the winner," says Adams. It sounded perfect. Years after the comic strip had become syndicated, Mike commented
that he believes the name idea might have come from seeing his father's old WWII aviator comics with "Dilbert the Pilot." DtP was a screw-up, invented by
Navy artist Robert Osborn, whose purpose in life was to illustrate the wrong way of doing things so that real pilots wouldn't make the same
mistakes. The name was funny then, as it is funny now. BTW <more>
Bilberry or Radar?
When news comes out about a new study claiming to have discovered
a new truth or to have disproved a formerly believed truth, a prudent approach for determining whether said conclusion passes the smell test
is to see whether samples of raw data and research methods are available for scrutiny. Merely being peer reviewed does not validate the claim.
Take for instance the hype that is offered for so many "natural" remedies for common afflictions. Many are undoubtedly useful, and might be
safer and even more effective than synthesized medications. However, one clue that a product is probably bogus is when the pitcher's strongest
argument for his product is the inadequacy or evilness of all others. An example is rampant promotion of bilberries as being the panacea for
all maladies ocular. Proponents claim that once RAF pilots in WWII began consuming copious quantities of bilberries prior to departing on night
bombing sorties, significant increases in levels of success were realized. The link provided here on the WebMD website is a good example of
how easily these claim can be debunked: It was more likely the introduction of airborne radar that was responsible for the improvement, not
"Insider trading" sounds a undeservedly nefarious in this case since it is referring
not to the SEC's definition of high level corporate titans' illegal trading their own stock, but to legal trades of those deemed to be "insiders." Let us take a look at what the single largest trades of some of
our major electronics companies' leaders have made in the last year. Most have multiple trades on record. Note that almost no purchase
transactions are listed, mostly grant, exercise, and sold.
R. Heath, Lock-Mart, VP, $2.12M | T. Dunn,
TriQuint, VP, $1.06M | W. Sullivan, Pres., Agilent, $13.49M | J. Truchard, Pres., National Instruments, $7.66M
| R. Johnson, Apple, Sr. VP, $45.91M | W. Boecke, VP, Hittite Microwaves, $3.44. I'm guessing these folks will be having a
very nice Christmas season. Good for them. Look up your own wig
stock trades, then go ask
for a raise ;-)
Paul Harvey on Hams
"Hello Americans, This is Paul Harvey..." Radio legend Paul Harvey produced and performed a daily show
that featured news, commercials, and commentary. For nearly 75 years, dedicated listeners looked forward to his show on the local AM radio stations
- especially The Rest of the Story. Scores of wars, natural disasters, crises, deaths, scientific advances, miracles, and acts of human
kindness were commented upon in Mr. Harvey's unique deliver style. On March 19, 2003, Mr. Harvey did a pitch for the role of Amateur Radio operators
in emergency response roles. The mention was the second item on "page four" of his Paul Harvey Noon News and Comment program. <more>
Fractals have been a mathematical curiosity
since first being popularized by Benoit Mandelbrot (who coined
the term) in the 1960s. Perhaps, and in retrospect no coincidence, was the popularity of the cloaking concept featured in the 1960s phenomenon
called Star Trek. I say coincidence because who would have guessed that
some of the leading research in invisibility cloaking would involve barriers derived from fractal forms? Have aliens been guiding the technology?
If so, maybe they're working at Fractal Antenna Systems, because in mid December the company issued a
press release detailing work being done on a cloaking system that
works in the microwave band (as opposed to visible light) - chosen for convenience of size. Results are quite impressive as can
be seen in the videos. I am not totally convinced... <more>
Standards for recognized base measurement units are usually
safeguarded against change by being kept in tightly controlled environments. On rare occasion, a base unit is redefined and the change must
ripple through the world's metrology centers. On October 4, 1958, a new unit of length was established - the Smoot. As a fraternity (ΛΧΑ) pledge prank, MIT's Oliver R. Smoot needed to donate his body as the dimensional unit
for determining the length of the Harvard Bridge. Smoot would lie down in successive increments while his head-to-heel length was marked on
the bridge; it is 364.4 smoots + 1 ear long. Doubt that the smoot is a legitimate unit? Go to Google and type in "1 mile in smoots." Chances
are, the smoot unit is a bit shorter today than it was in 1958, so alert your cal lab if you use the units in your spec sheets. So, whatever
happened to Oliver Smoot? Appropriately, he went on to become the chairman of ANSI.
How Many Smoots
Long Is That?
Books Getting Cheaper?
I look at a lot of engineering books from major publishers like Artech House, Cambridge University Press, John Wiley & Sons, etc. It might
be my imagination, but it seems the average price for new releases has been falling over the last year or so. For a long time, it was extremely
rare to be able to buy an engineering book even from a discount retailer like Amazon.com for under $100. Now, there is a large number of such
books available for less than $100. This week's Featured Book, "Computational Electromagnetics for RF and Microwave Engineering," for instance, is selling for a mere $71.20. "Advanced RF MEMS," lists for $86.91. "Probability for Electrical and Computer Engineers," just $83.82. Many more are priced just north of $100. Not so long ago,
you had a hard time finding a good engineering tome for less than about $125. When you factor in inflation and the lower buying power of your
dollar, the prices are even better compared to a few years ago. Now would be a good time to add to your library.
Top Tech Companies to Work for in 2011
Researching and ranking companies based on feedback provided by employees is the purview of
GlassDoor.com. The primary result is a measure of
how satisfied employees are with pay, benefits, and treatment. CEOs are solicited for how well they believe their companies are managed. GlassDoor.com
just released the results of its 2011 ranking. I selected the top ranking companies that are most relevant to RF Cafe visitors. Here they are,
beginning with the highest ranking.
1 Mitre (defense contractor)
2 National Instruments
4 Analog Devices
The #1 overall spot went to Facebook.
What Would Happen If All 118 Elements Were Combined?
Popular Science is a reliable source
of topics from DIY homeowner projects to odd science topics. This thought experiment is in response to a reader's query as to what would happen
if all the elements in the periodic table were combined at once. Theoretical chemist Mark Tuckerman suggests that simply dumping one of each
atom into a bowl and stirring vigorously would not produce "a super-molecule containing one of everything." Another option is to use an accelerator
to slam all 118 elements together - not a likely scenario in nature. The result? "It won’t make that cool Frankenstein element. More likely,
they would meld into a quark-gluon plasma, the theoretical matter that existed right after the universe formed... but they would last for a
fraction of a second before degrading." Instead of just single atoms of each, what about combining small chunks of solids, squirts of liquids,
and puffs of gasses together? You'll have to read the article
to find out.
Most people spend their lives inside the
metaphorical "box." Some people venture outside its womb-like security often enough to create amazing things. Others, like Larry Fullerton,
of Time Domain, live on the outside. Having achieved notoriety for his serial, industry-changing
UWB inventions, with more than 100 patents, Larry applied his coding theory expertise to magnets. Proving once again that luck and serendipity
are more likely to be found outside the box than within, a thought experiment for creating self-assembling toys for his grandchildren gave birth
to a ground-breaking new technology dubbed - you guessed it - correlated magnetics. "Magnetic structures having designs based on
correlated magnetics and coding theory enable magnetic forces
to be precisely controlled to achieve desired alignment, coupling force, and release force characteristics, and to produce unique magnetic identities
to control how these magnetic structures interact." Check it out.
Success Stories for 2010
Success can be in the eye of the beholder. A combination of objective and subjective criteria is applied,
in both absolute and relative terms. The writer of the publication usually has an agenda that intends to influence your opinion to favor its
view, either positive or negative. I say give me all your data along with the method by which it was gathered, and I'll make my own decision.
Being the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year, most of the news and opinion outlets are publishing their 2010 conclusions and
2011 prognostications. Caveat emptor, as the Latins[sic] say. That said, I'll point out a noteworthy article by
Microwave Product Digest, with their December 2010 Success Stories & Business
Profiles. That one I tend to trust. Why? Because 1/3 of the companies are RF Cafe advertisers. Does that make me biased? You bet it does
iGen Student Holiday LED Display Contest
EETimes, iGen and Digi-Key have joined to offer $4,500 of prize money! Purpose: The Parallax and iGen Student Holiday LED Challenge aims to
inspire middle-school, high-school, and undergraduate students to work with microcontrollers and electronic components to create their own LED
holiday projects. The contest is open to students aged 24 and under (those 18 and under require parental consent). The Competition: In this
challenge students will use light-emitting diodes of their choice (LEDs) to create a holiday display of their own design. A display should have
a simple theme--Christmas, the New Year, Hanukkah, Easter, Passover, Halloween, or other seasonal holiday. Examples could include an ornament,
display item, game, animated toy or anything else as long as it uses LEDs and has a holiday theme!
Complete the registration
form no later than December 22, 2010.